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‘Wuthering Heights’ at Aquila Theatre at George Mason University

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Before you can see anything, you can hear IT – the howling of the hostile and ominous wind of the Yorkshire moors. This is how Desiree Sanchez, Artistic Director of Aquila Theatre and adapter of Wuthering Heights, lets us know that we are entering a dark and twisted world, in which nature and humans are one, and families, like fruits of one tree, refuse to share its seeds with other kinds. When the stage emerges out of darkness exposing a group of mill laborers, working as if they were in a trance, against a backdrop of a huge spider web like net, the introduction to Wuthering Heights gloom is complete. Then, Nelly (Lizzy Dive) the Earnshaws’ nanny and confidante, steps forward and begins to tell the tale.

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Heathcliff (Dale Mathurin) and Cathy’s (Kali Hughes) doomed love story does not need much introduction – Emily Bronte’s 19th century romance is almost as well known as that of Romeo and Juliet’s. Growing up in Wuthering Heights the children, although unrelated by blood, are destined to be soul mates and become inseparable.  When one of them breaks their unique bond later in life, it is a decision the other is unable to accept. And so begins a gothic saga of love gone wrong, obsession, hatred, revenge, cruelty and self-destruction permeating two generations of a family unable to stop the primal passions from violating their fate.

Emily Bronte’s only novel as one of the greatest works of all-time fits perfectly with the Aquila Theatre touring company’s mission to bring “the greatest works to the greatest numbers.” Great classics with their countless past adaptations in existence, pose a special challenge to directors and producers, a test, Aquila Theatre passes with flying colors. Skillfully combining text, movement, dance, music, sound and lights/projections with a collection of wooden crates as furnishings, modest costumes and a handful of props, the team creates a dream like experience taking the audience inside a timeless and tragic story and making its archetypal resonance touch our collective unconscious with the force of the roaring Yorkshire winds.

Sanchez’s adaptation of the extensive novel focuses on the archetypal lovers and presents as much as possible from the moments they physically share. As they are rarely alone, other characters, such as Old Earnshaw (James Lavender); Hindley (Michael Ring), Catherine’s blood brother and his wife Frances (Lizzy Dive); Nelly, the Housekeeper and Nanny and Joseph (James Lavender) the Servant, are also part of the action. Not to mention Edgar Linton (Calder Shilling) and his sister Isabella (Michael Ring), noble and wealthy siblings from the nearby Grange, unlucky enough for their fates to merge with those of the desperate soul mates.

Each talented actor plays more than one role (don’t miss Michael Ring as Isabella and James Lavender as the Preacher) showing off their incredible skills and versatility, and that of the designers.  Special mention goes to Lizzy Dive, whose re-rendition of devoted, hard working and indestructible Nelly, the backbone of the dysfunctional family, and the main narrator of the story, is exceptional. Dive not only looks like an ideal housekeeper and nanny, emanating warmth and comfort with the help of her plump figure and a round, friendly face, but brings Nelly to life with vigor, conviction and occasional humor, making us hang onto her every word.

Matching her impact, is Kali Hughes in her role of spirited Cathy who fools and wrongs herself by believing that rejecting true love and choosing status would bring her contentment. In the last scene of Act 1, she is at her many bests revealing both the depth of her love for Heathcliff and her despair of having to choose another. Hughes is equally impressive in one of the last scenes, when devastated by emotional pain to the point of loosing her mind, disheveled and sick, she wallows in her misery and longing for her lost love, and later torn between love and hate begs Heathcliff never to leave her again.

The dramatic action of the two-act play oscillates between the gloomy, dark farmhouse of Wuthering Heights and an elegant manor of the Lintons. How smoothly, just with a change of lights, backdrop projections, re-arrangement of crates and clever use of fabrics, the stage transforms from scene to scene. How easily sound, music and movement replace words and change the mood. Behind this only seemingly effortless magic stands a team of talented team of designers:  founder of the company Peter Meineck (Lightning Designer), Christopher Marc (Sound Designer), Deanna Berg MacLean (Costume Designer), Sara Morgan (Prop Designer/Scenic Carpenter), Ellie Engstrom (Projection Designer and Lighting Assistant) and Bob Roger (Technical Director).

The cast of 'Wuthering Heights.' Photo courtesy of Aquila Theatre.

The cast of ‘Wuthering Heights.’ Photo courtesy of Aquila Theatre.

Congratulations to Aquila Theatre for the highly entertaining, innovative, and energizing spectacle, and for reminding us of a powerful and universal message worth remembering: life can be turned into emotional hell when status and wealth are favored over true love, and revenge is chosen over forgiveness.

Running Time: Two hours, with one ten-minute intermission

Wuthering Heights played at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts on October 5, 2014. Check Aquila Theatre’s website for their upcoming tour dates.

http://youtu.be/m3tSyLcet7w

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