Saturday, May 17, 2014

Blood Relations at The Raven


Playwright Sharon Pollock’s clever take on ‘did she or didn’t she,’ the Lizzie Borden story, puts to rest the jump rope rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an axe…“  The actual number of ‘whacks’ that were dealt was fewer that forty and forty-one and more likely whacked with a hatchet.  Of course, hatchet doesn’t rhyme with whacks, so there you are.

At rise, it is the 1920s, thirty years after the 1892 murders of Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abigail.  We first meet Lizzie Borden (dark and intense Carolyn Crotty) discussing the lines that Lizzie Borden, The Actress (very blonde Meg Wallace) speaks in what becomes evidently, a ‘theatrical.’ It’s a clever and somewhat disorienting trip.  The Actress is having difficulty with her speeches.  The discussion between the Lizzies sets the stage for reliving events that led up to the dramatic actions that became national headlines.

The play is somewhat of a rollercoaster with the interesting shift from the women discussing the dramatic events to seeing the events unfold. Eventually, The Actress: Blonde Lizzie plays out the tensions and frustrations of her story while Dark Lizzie morphs into the Irish Borden maid, Bridget Sullivan.  As Sullivan, Crotty affects an Irish accent and brings strong presence to each scene.  The evidence of the class system that cast the Irish as undesirable expands to a flirtation by Blonde Lizzie with a married Irish doctor (smarmy Jay Disney).  The social times and the high standing of Andrew Borden (true New Englander Hap Lawrence) and his family, including his second wife, Abigail (Deborah Cresswell), older daughter Emma (lovely Amy Moorman) have a difficult time with Blonde Lizzie’s obstinate rejection of her father Andrew’s insistence that she marry a local widower.  
L to R: Meg Wallace, Amy Moorman and Carolyn Crotty

Director Steve Jarrard  (who also appears briefly now and then to address the audience as the jury in the Borden trial as Lizzie’s defense attorney) has his hands full with the attitudes of the ‘real’ women, Dark Lizzie and The Actress who observe and then act in the theatrical of the events that lead to the murders.  The theatricality of the ‘play’ shifts slightly from the point of view of the two women as the story unfolds.  History reports that Andrew Borden was unpopular and a very rich businessman as well as being a tighwad. He was not particularly liked in Fall River, Massachusetts.  Exposition includes Harry Wingate (excellent Steve Peterson’s natural portrayal) conniving with Andrew to do an end run around Lizzie and Emma regarding a farm where the family enjoyed summers.

Not without some flaws, Blood Relations serves up food for thought about this factual urban legend.  The vast contrast between the ‘real’ Lizzie Borden (who really just wanted to be Elizabeth and live a comfortable life) and the Actress is one of method and presentation. Blonde Lizzie, Meg Wallace’s voice, even in this tiny space is sometimes difficult to understand.  The broad approach to the ‘theatrical’ verges on the melodramatic, which may have been Jarrad’s intention.  None the less the company of actors ‘playing’ their characters are mostly evenly broad.  Some physical bits need work.
Hap Lawrence, Carolyn Crotty and Meg Wallace

This is a play within a play that teases us with the notion that Lizzie Borden may or may not have taken a hatchet… but most likely was guilty of the gruesome deed.  She was acquitted probably because it was unthinkable in 1893 that a woman was capable of such a heinous act.

The authentic set by director Jarrard greets the audience and serves well the story.

The excellent period costumes are not credited.

The Raven Playhouse is a tiny 42 seat space next door to Vicious Hot Dogs in the burgeoning heart of NoHo.  The pleasant guy who gave the curtain speech admonished the audience to tell their friends if we liked the show and if we didn’t to tell our enemies!  This theatre deserves an audience as they do not solicit funds except from patrons who buy tickets to see their shows.

BLOOD RELATIONS by Sharon Pollock

The Raven Playhouse

5233 Lankershim Blvd.

North Hollywood, CA 91601

Runs May 16 through June 15, 2014

Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:00pm    

Tickets are $20 with a $5 discount for seniors and full-time students.


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