Presented by Nom de Plume Productions and The Powerhouse Theatre Company as part of the seventh annual New York International Fringe Festival at Our Lady of Pompeii Catholic Church, 25 Carmine St., NYC, Aug. 8-9.
"Dear Charlotte" is a complicated, ambitious play by Joy Gregory that succeeds on some levels and falls short on others. The modest venue is a bare space with the scene set by a sketch of the lonely Yorkshire moors.
The theme is the injustice the talented Brontë sisters faced as women. Charlotte (Kim Weild), Emily (Amber Skalski), and Anne (Tina Van Berckelaer) are not taken seriously by their distant father (David LM Mcintyre). Their endearing, ineffectual brother, Bramwell (Brian Stanton), gets to study in London. When Charlotte writes to a leading literary figure (Robert Patrick Brink), his discouraging response almost crushes her, but her ferocious determination wins out.
Weild effectively uses her posture to convey both Charlotte's feelings of inadequacy and her anger at these obstacles. In Act I, the siblings' isolated life is filled by their joy in the word—reading and acting out their stories. Ironically, their readings, especially when in chorus, are often vocally monotonous. The second act is more alive.
Highlights include a scene between Rebecca Rasmussen as Maria, a Brontë sister tormented by a teacher (Peggy Flood) and consoled by Charlotte. Rasmussen conveys real angst. We feel loss when Maria dies, but don't when sister Elizabeth (Mandy Freund) and Mother (Flood) also die young. Bramwell's hopes—and emotional collapse—upon leaving for London are also palpably felt. Charlotte comes alive with anger at the discouraging letter, and later with joy when she finds an encouraging teacher (Brink). Emily and Anne (who has some strong moments) are held too much in check.
Conveying this complex story is hard work. At times it is confusing. Given that these are repressed characters, they need better direction than Anthony Byrnes has provided and strengthened plot lines, so the audience feels their emotions more strongly, rather than hearing them merely declared.