Sound Theatre Company presents “Blood Relations”

Somehow, I’ve never thought of Lizzie Borden as an early feminist. In “Blood Relations” by Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock, that attribution is loud and clear. The play, based on fact and speculation, suggests that she was a woman with strong views on what a woman’s life and entitlements should be, and certainly the life she had before the death of her parents failed to meet her ideals.

We all know that the historical Lizzie was absolved of any guilt in the ax murders of her step-mother and father. Yet for the past 122 years, public opinion has doubted her innocence. In this play, we’re given strong reasons to believe that public opinion has it right.

257

Pictured (Left to Right): Caitlin Frances, Peggy Gannon
Photography by Ken Holmes

Lizzie and her sister live on the family’s Fall River farm with their terse father and step-mother. New Englanders are known to withhold their emotions, and Lizzie gets little affection and encouragement at home. She’s a headstrong woman, likes to be in charge, and refuses to play the docile female. Lizzie has little love for her step mother, whom she refers to as the “fat cow.” And when she learns that the despised woman is finagling to inherit the farm, she’s enraged. Her father won’t discuss it. Lizzie feels abandoned. Shortly afterward, the “fat cow” and her father are found axed to death, and Lizzie denies any culpability.

As the play opens, ten years after the murder, Lizzie (Caitlin Frances) is entertaining her lesbian lover (Peggy Gannon) in her farmhouse. Then quickly the scene changes to the time before the murders and Gannon assumes the Lizzie role while Frances becomes Bridget, the household maid. The whole conceit of the switched roles confused me, and once I figured it out, I couldn’t find any purpose to it. Okay, so Lizzie got the house after the deaths. There must be a less confounding way to show that her life was better. Despite this and other structural flaws in the play, the production has merit.

Director Gianni Truzzi has drawn together a well-balanced cast and production crew. Gannon captures Lizzie’s cascading flow of emotions and her firm belief that she has rights, and Frances brings sprightliness and charm to her role as the Irish maid. Bill Higham as Mr. Borden is the epitome of the terse southern New England farmer. Good supporting players complement the leads, and it all plays out on Richard Schaefer’s quintessential 19th Century New England set.

So problematic play, good production, and here we are more than a century later, where a play about a woman seeking equality still has resonance.

Through Sept. 27 at Cornish Playhouse Studio, Seattle Center, Seattle, (206-856-5520 or www.soundtheatrecompany.org).

Leave a Reply