Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Did she? Sound Theatre's production leaves it up to you.

Caitlin Frances and Peggy Gannon in Blood Relations (Ken Holmes)
Blood Relations
Sound Theatre Company
Through September 27, 2014

“Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.” That rhyme and variations has been around since shortly after the murders of the parents of a real Lizzie Borden in 1892. But Ms. Borden was acquitted in a trial. Shouldn’t that be the end of the story?

Apparently not, because there are whole scholarly books out on the subject and Harvard Law School has tried her again and again, only to have their juries acquit her, too. Plays have been written and recently a rock musical was presented by Village Theatre at their summer festival.

Another play, Blood Relations, is now on stage by SoundTheatre Company at the black box stage behind Cornish Playhouse. Written by Sharon Pollock, a Canadian playwright I had not heard of, this play is content to not quite answer the question, either.

The play is meant to demonstrate the lack of options women were faced with at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s not all that successful in broadening the story, because it still focuses on the unique sets of facts that we know about, and some of the innuendo, as well.

The physical environment managed by director Gianni Truzzi fits the turn of the century style with a dowdy crowded house with a parlor and dining room designed by Richard Schaefer, who also designed subtle lighting effects. Costumes by Rachel Kunze Wilkie seem appropriate but are unfortunately unflattering on main characters Lizzie (Caitlin Frances) and her Actress friend (Peggy Gannon). A supportive sound design by Lindsey Morck provides aural ambiance.

The play starts with Lizzie being visited by her friend. Their relationship is not overtly more than friendly, but hints at the possibility of Lizzie’s lesbianism, as some research alleges. The Actress pushes Lizzie to tell her more definitively if Lizzie did it, or not. The implication is that she wants to know that Lizzie did it. Because, if Lizzie didn’t, she was already acquitted, so why ask.

Lizzie then invites the Actress to play a game in which the Actress becomes Lizzie and takes a turn through the events leading up to the murders to see if the Actress would find herself wanting to commit murder or not. Lizzie then becomes their maid Bridget, a key household member at that time.

The first scene in the play is an awkward one full of things we don’t understand at first. There are pieces of information that fly by too fast to catch. But soon, the play invigorates as Caitlin Frances becomes Bridget, with a lilting Irish accent.

While this script allows Lizzie to have a decent relationship with her father (some research suggests a much more rigid and disciplinarian relationship), the fact is that he still decides in a fit of pique to kill her beloved pigeons. She hates her step-mother and her father is transferring property to the step-mother and step-mother’s brother, and every transfer leaves Lizzie and her sister Emma more and more in Step-Mama’s control.

Bill Higham plays a non-confrontative father and husband, and since he seems like a really lovely gentleman, he unintentionally undercuts reason to murder him. Jody McCoy, while being a lovely person in real life, finds some definite ugliness and self-centeredness as Mrs. Borden to provoke Lizzie. Still, there needs to be a great sense of tension to drive a murder of passion and the production doesn’t quite rise to that level of tension.

Solid performances from John Murray (multiple small roles), Joseph P. McCarthy, a worthy swindling brother-in-law, and Alyssa Keene as sister Emma complete the cast.

This is a well-done production with both leads (Francis and Gannon) providing interest and intrigue. The script is not as robust in some ways as could be hoped, but it is still recommended for an interesting evening of theater.

Tickets here

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