As a piece of living literary criticism, “Brontë” is fascinating. As a piece of drama, it is feeble. Still, audiences, including both Brontë book fans and those whose familiarity with the subject is limited to a few weeks in a high school literature class, should find something to appreciate in British playwright Polly Teale’s 2005 Brontë biopic, now being presented by Remy Bumppo Theatre: psychologically nuanced performances, an atmospheric and appropriately moody lighting design, a structural device that interweaves scenes—fictionalized moments involving the Brontë clan or passages lifted from the Brontë books and enacted by its characters—into a linear narrative so that the past and present, the expressionistic and the naturalistic and the inner and outer lives of these characters is probed. The result is a psychological exploration of the Brontë sisters, mainly Charlotte and Emily (third sister Anne is conspicuously underwritten and under-served), via their fictional creations with the suggestion that “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Height”’s Cathy were the literary embodiment of Charlotte and Emily’s innate sensuality and thirst for freedom, as well as Teale’s bold hypothesis that malcontent brother Branwell’s sexual peccadilloes and hint of incest explains how three celibate spinsters could have produced some of the most passionate love stories and poems in the English language. I guess Teale can’t fathom that imagination might have played a part. But I digress. Clearly, one is encouraged to assess and think during “Brontë,” but rarely is there the opportunity to become involved or feel. Indeed, with the exception of the scene in which a drunken Branwell disturbingly forces his hands between his sister’s inner thighs, to the horror of the other sisters looking on, the majority of the play feels inert and the scenes—individually or cumulatively—lack dramatic punch. Even if the first-rate ensemble were to adopt a kamikaze style of acting, they still would not be able to imbue “Brontë” with what it needs—it’s simply just not in the material to be had—although as “Jane Eyre”’s madwoman Bertha, Remy Bumppo vet Linda Gillum gets to memorably writhe across the floor on all fours and do her best vocal impression of Mercedes McCambridge, the late actress who provided the voice of Linda Blair’s demon in “The Exorcist.” Now that’s drama. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Victory Gardens Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln, (773)871-3000. This production is now closed.