Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
By Sharon Pollock
Directed by Lynn Phelan
Blood Relations is a fascinating play built around the true-crime Lizzie Borden mystery. On August 4, 1892, in the small New England town of Fall River, Massachusetts, Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby were brutally murdered in their home by someone wielding a hatchet. There were no witnesses and their bodies were discovered by Andrew’s youngest daughter Lizzie who was apparently the only person in the house at the time. Subsequently Lizzie was tried for the double murder of her father and stepmother, and was acquitted by the all-male jury. No one else was ever accused of the crime.
Sharon Pollock’s play uses a clever flashback device in order to re-enact what may have happened on the day of the murders. The opening scene takes place ten years later (in 1902) with “Miss Lizzie Borden” and her friend “The Actress” deciding to play different parts, with Actress becoming Lizzie, and Lizzie becoming the maid “Bridget Sullivan.” Thus the play is itself a play within a play, and we are further distanced from reality by the identity shifts. The role of The Actress is ambiguous – is she simply a friend (or lover) or is she Lizzie’s alter ego? Collette Clavadetscher is entirely convincing as the proud Lizzie Borden, who refuses to say (even to her friend) what really happened, and later is friendly yet deferential as the Irish maid. Debra Bowers gives a wonderful performance as “Miss Lizzie” who is shown to be difficult, angry, obstinate, frustrated and ultimately loving. It’s a powerful role and Debra (a newcomer to LLT) displays a full range of emotion.
A strong supporting cast and a sure-handed director brought all their skills to the stage and made this play an evening to remember. Dave McIntosh, who happens to look very much like the real life “Andrew Borden,” is excellent as the father, while Patteye Simpson handles her role as the stepmother with just the right amount of fear and impatience. Miss Lizzie just will not conform, get married and be a good 19th century wife. Russell Mack plays Abby’s brother “Harry Wingate” who has designs on the old family farm, and Liz White floats around the stage as “Emma Borden,” Lizzie’s helpless elder sister who avoids any confrontation. Finally Greg Clarke as the Irish “Dr Patrick” is a bantering foil to Lizzie’s turmoil of emotion, and Fred Koesling gives us some excerpts from the trial in a cameo role as Lizzie’s defense counsel. The play was well acted – however, there were occasions when the actors were too civil to each other, and I would have liked to see more edge and emotion to the dialogue.
The lighting and sound effects and the music were appropriate and effective. I should also mention the extraordinary set designed by Rob Stupple and constructed by Alex Pinkerton and his crew. It goes up several levels, and we have the illusion of being in a multi-storied house. Space does not permit me to give all the names of the set construction crew – I congratulate everyone involved. Lynn Phelan deserves our appreciation for bringing this difficult play to stage with such great success, with Margo Eberly as Stage Manager and Win McIntosh as Production Assistant. You can all be proud.