The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Riverside produces play premiere

“Bronte: The World Without” tells the real story of three sisters who each became best-selling authors in the 1800s.
Ava Neumaier
Charlotte Brontë, played by Katie Gucik, opens a letter during a production of “Brontë: The World Without” at Riverside Theater in Iowa City on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.

As the lights dimmed and music started playing in Riverside Theatre in Iowa City on the opening night of “Brontë: The World Without,” audiences quickly realized this production would be something special.

Actresses began to dance across the stage, twirling with pages of poetry in their hands as they introduced a story of sisterhood and survival to the stage.

Written by Jordi Mand and directed by Juliana Frey-Méndez, the play originally debuted in Canada, with Riverside hosting its North American premiere.

The show explores the complicated and heartfelt relationships between the three famous Brontë sisters, as well as how their growing passion for novel writing changes their otherwise simple lives over three years.

“My favorite part was the comradery. I don’t have sisters, so getting to have them for this was really fun,” Lauren Baker, who brilliantly portrayed Emily Brontë, said. “And then for Emily, she was such a public recluse — to be able to show what her inner life could [was] really cool.”

Emily Brontë was best known for her novel “Wuthering Heights,” which was published in 1847 under the pen name of Ellis Bell. In the play, Emily is bothered by the controversial reception of both her novel and its radical main character, Heathcliff.

“A lot of the script is pretty accurate to their [the sisters] lives. We had an amazing dramaturg who knew so much about the Brontë family. Having that information to inform us about their relationships was really exciting,” Katie Gucik, who played Charlotte Brontë, added.

Charlotte Brontë first gained fame after the publication of her novel “Jane Eyre,” which became popular for its time. The oldest Brontë sister is portrayed as caring deeply for her family, but she is at the same time envied by her sisters for her vastly successful novel and the raving reviews that accompany it.

And, of course, the Brontë trio would not be complete without the youngest sister, Anne Brontë. Brought to life by Mackenzie Elsbecker, Anne is desperate to make a strong impact on the world around her. Through her two novels, “Agnes Grey” and “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” Anne discusses the social inequity that existed during their time.

“I like bringing these three sisters to life. I feel like this play, in a way, gives them a chance to be heard. And I also liked just playing and spinning around,” Elsbecker said.

All three actresses brought passion and heart to their portrayals of their respective Brontë sister. Each character seemed unique and special in her own way. During the play, the audience was invited to laugh and cry along with the Brontë sisters as they experienced the most successful — and arguably the most difficult — years of their lives.

Adam Knight, the producing artistic director for the show, spoke on its development: “Two summers ago, I visited the Stratford Festival in Canada. There, I saw a play by Jordi Mand that was based on Little Women. When watching the play, I thought it would be something that would work really well here.”

After getting in touch with Mand’s agent, Knight requested to review a copy of the play. Upon reading it, he felt that it would resonate with audiences in Iowa City.

Audiences are invited to come and embrace the world of the Brontë sisters from now until Dec. 10. The cast emphasized that there is no requirement to be a Brontë scholar to see the show — the play includes fun, sweet and heartbreaking moments that can be enjoyed by anyone.

“This is the city of literature, and these are three of the greatest novelists of all time, who also happen to be all related to one another,” Knight said. “That just seemed like a really fascinating story,”

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About the Contributors
Riley Dunn
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.
Ava Neumaier
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.