Certainly the Bronte sisters' works of fiction, especially "Wuthering Heights" and "Jane Eyre," have been stage fodder in both musical and play form. (A new stage adaptation of "Jane Eyre" comes to BAM this month.) But the tragic lives of the three lady writers, and their wayward, drunken brother -- lives equally as interesting as any in their fiction -- have received considerably less attention in the theatre.
In a dramatization of the Brontes' passionate and short existences, the Magic Theatre in San Francisco will stage the world premiere playwright performer John O'Keefe's Bronte Feb. 11-March 5, with an opening set for Feb. 18. Tony nominee Barbara Damashek (Quilters) directs.
In a true life painting of life on the dire, colorless moors of small-town England, four siblings, under the tyrannical care of their parson father, came to create great works of fiction as they struggled to escape reality through imagination. As their father goes blind and is threatened with losing his parsonage, the only son takes refuge in the bottle and the wife of his wealthy employer, while the girls turn to literature to free the family from financial troubles. Within nine months of "Jane Eyre"'s publishing, however, three of the four would be dead.
O'Keefe, author of over 30 full length plays, spent ten years studying the Brontes and created three works from his research: Flowers of Fancy (1994), The Bronte Cycle (1997) and The Bronte Lecture, a tragicomic performance that centers on the lyric poetry of Emily Bronte. Other plays include The Deatherians, Mimzabim and Disgrace.
Alexander Storm, Yumi Sumida and Sarah Overman star as the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Ann respectively. Andrew Hurteau plays their brother Branwell with Robert Parnell as their father, Patrick. Michael Eliopoulos portrays the girls' suitors. Tickets are $30-$15. The Magic Theatre is located at Bldg. D, Fort Mason Center on Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street. For more information, call (415) 441-8822. The Magic Theatre is on the web at http://www.magictheatre.org.
The theatre has settled on its last three productions for the 1999-2000 season:
• Up first will be "Wild At Heart" novelist and David Lynch collaborator Barry Gifford's Wyoming, beginning performances April 7. A road journey where a woman and her son search for final happiness in the aforementioned state, Wyoming explores the geography and concepts of America. Magic Theatre associate artist Amy Glazer will direct.
• June brings the premiere of Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch, recently workshopped in the Magic's Lesbian Playwrights Festival. Based on her book of updated fairy tales, Witch features strong, courageous and sexy heroines not afraid to pursue what they want. Donoghue is best known for her Ladies and Gentlemen and her novels "Stir-Fry" and "Hood." Kent Nicholson (Stones in His Pockets) directs the play, which runs June 2-25.
• Finally, Charles L. Mee, Jr.'s Summertime will run June 30-July 23. Set in and around a garden terrace, the play is a comic and serious look at love and sex through a long and complicated series of characters who weave in and out of each other's romances. Kenn Watt, who directed the 1999 workshop of the same, will return to helm the full Magic production.
In addition to the season, the Magic has also added a new general manager, John Warren. A former artistic director of Unconditional Theatre, he directed productions of Greensboro and Baltimore Waltz, among others. He is also the author of Groping For Justice: The Bob Packwood Story, which was a finalist at the Humana Festival.
-- By Christine Ehren