Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lizzie Borden @ The Living Theatre

Lizzie Borden took an axe,
Gave her mother 40 whacks,
When she saw what she had done,
Gave her father 41...

At turns touching, absurd, anachronisistic and delightfully wicked, the rock musical adaptation of this Victorian-era tale is irresistibly campy. Creators Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt have taken great liberties to fill in the historical blanks, injecting the Lizzie Borden household with child abuse and lesbian love to heighten the drama and provide motivation for the infamous double homicide.

The show is equally carried by a cast of four women boasting strong vocal talents: Lizzie Borden (Jenny Fellner), her 'friend' Alice Russell (Marie-France Arcilla), Lizzie's older sister Emma Borden (Lisa Birnbaum), and the maid Bridge "Maggie" Sullivan (Carrie Cimma). The latter two were my personal favorites: Birbaum rode the line of Lita Ford rock goddess dressed in black leggings, spike heels, and Victorian-cum-glam metal jacket topped off by pouting lips and headbanging tosses of her chestnut hair, while Cimma, done up in steampunk dyke chic regalia, brought comic relief delivered in a sardonic Irish brogue.

The musical composition was quite interesting at times (particularly in the “Shattercane and Velvet Grass" duet between Lizzie and Maggie), although more often it was a solid backdrop to showcase the voices onstage. Lyrically, there were a few cringe-worthy moments, but that's not to say there weren't clever ones, like Lizzie deeming herself the "Yankee Clytemnestra."

Lizzie Borden is described as a "rock road show," which hints at the possible impetus for some of the choices in production design, particularly the use of head mics as well as microphones with stands. I see how it added to the 'live rock show' feel of the piece as the four were backed by a tight live band, but the awkwardness of the long cords also stood in the way of more dynamic movements and moments between characters onstage.

In the end, this is an experience not to be missed - I have already made plans to attend again. My only hope for next time is that there will be MUCH more blood...

For more information, visit the official site, here.

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