Brontè: a solo Portrait of Charlotte Brontè, Free Associates, at the Ivanhoe Theater. Given the high level of scholarship reflected in Blithering Heights--the Free Associates' improvised parodies of 19th-century goth novels--a serious treatment of the venerable Charlotte Bront' et al was not out of the realm of possibility. But William Luce's script departs from company practice by assigning a single player the responsibility of keeping the audience entertained for two hours.
It couldn't have been easy to explain a fundamentally reclusive woman spilling her secrets to strangers, much less provide the stage business necessary to vary the visual monotony of a solo performance. But Susan Gaspar's direction and Liz Cloud's performance emphasize the practical facts of Bront''s isolation--a home deep in the remote Yorkshire moors, a poverty that prevented much travel--to set off their picture of a lonely, passionate woman who might well welcome company. Indeed, the show opens with Bront' awaiting the gentleman caller she hopes to marry, albeit more out of weariness than ardor.
Cloud draws on her well-honed comedic skills to create an intelligent, witty hostess whose mimicry of her universe is a delight; denouncing her enemies, she makes the mundane chore of peeling potatoes an excoriation as precise as a military execution. She even dismisses the occasional moment of melancholy with a matter-of-fact resignation that refutes the popular conception of Victorian women as neurasthenic ninnyhammers. The author of Jane Eyre herself couldn't have asked for more. --Mary Shen Barnidge