Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Blood Countess: Sophisticated, bloody fun (Annex)

Terri Weagant and Sarah Winsor in Blood Countess (Dangerpants Photography)
Blood Countess
Through November 22, 2014

A real live flesh-eating noblewoman is the subject of Kelleen Conway Blanchard’s latest production at Annex Theatre. Blood Countess is a poetic and evocative telling of Elizabeth Bathory’s life, from her childhood, marriage to a fellow sadist, up to her final captivity and end.

Blanchard wouldn’t write just any kind of biography, though. She picks key moments in a life to dramatize with effective dialogue and unique characterizations. Mary Murfin Bayley as the Mother is venal, crazy and abusive…Apple meet Tree.

Terri Weagant in the title role displays a full range of emotions and facially transmits all kinds of information through her expressions: dislike, bordering on hate for her mother, longing to be accepted for herself, developing awareness of her own powers and desires, and progressing into a raging, crazy and megalomaniacal fully grown woman.

Ashlen Hodge is Dorkus, the nursemaid and main house servant who must comply with her masters and then somehow clean up after bloody messes she has to pretend not to understand. James Weidman’s main role (of two) is of Elizabeth’s husband Ferenc, a nobleman who enjoys her sadism and encourages it to new heights. He skirts the edge of caricature, but adds a lot of creepy fun.

Martyn G. Krouse plays a priest who has known the family her whole life and is trying, unsuccessfully, to bring attention to disappearing young girls who are last seen at Elizabeth’s manor. However, he is no saint! Sarah Winsor winningly plays several young women who are introduced and quickly disappear, through changes in costume, language and demeanor.

Then, the deranged and bedraggled Fitzco, a dangerous simpleton (though maybe not), appears to help and encourage the evil-doing. Erin Stewart pulls out all the stops (as usual) and amps both the creep and the humor. Stewart is, lucky for us, fearless about her work on stage and brings all her intensity to bear.

The mayhem is directed by Bret Fetzer as he uses Annex’s usual minimal technical accessories to exceed their low monetary value and provide great stagecraft at the same time. With Ian Johnston’s support for set design, Gwyn Skone providing inventive creepy lighting, super costuming and wigging from Samantha Armitage (probably on a miniscule budget), and sound by Kyle Thompson, the overall effect is a very sophisticated production. There were a few moments when a bit more screaming sound effects seemed missing, but perhaps the philosophy was less was more on that score.

The play could be seen as a “Halloween” event at this time of year, but that downplays its execution, cast and the beautiful poetry of the script. Blanchard seems to love creepy, but also demonstrates that she loves language more. Go get your fright on and also experience a multi-layered biography.

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