Monday, June 9, 2014

Lizzie—Portland Center Stage----NW Portland

A “Whacky” World

This rock opera is written by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt and Tim Maner and directed by Rose Riordan, with musical direction by James Beaton.  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave. through June 29th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

I’m sure everyone has heard, at one time or another, that cute, little children’s ditty:  Lizzie Borden took an ax, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, gave her father forty-one.  The  history surrounding that rhyme is steeped in legend and myth and half-truths.  Although she was acquitted of the crime, as having no witnesses or confession, it is generally believed Lizzie (Mary Kate Morrissey) did the dastardly deed.  The trusty maid, Bridget/Maggie (Carrie Cimma) and Lizzie’s sister, Emma (Leslie McDonel) and even her best friend, Alice (Kacie Sheik), all testified against her.

There was no shortage of motives for the crime.  Their step-mother was in the process of cutting them out of the will, as Mr. Borden was a ruthless businessman and very thrifty with his money.  Also her father slaughtered all her birds in the barn that she held dear.  He felt they were filthy animals.  And then there was the little matter of possible sexual abuse from father to daughter and her possible jealousy of her step-mother for her father’s affections.

Also Lizzie was thirty-two at the time of the murders in this sleepy little New England hamlet in the late 1800’s, unmarried and still living at home.  There was some talk that she and her friend, Alice, were lovers.  To be fair, there was some speculation briefly on the older sister, Emma who, at the time of the murders, was away, sorting out family matters.  Or did she sneak back and wait for a ripe opportunity to kill her folks?  Also the maid was a sassy, Irish upstart who hated her lowly job and employers.  And Lizzie’s friend, Alice, may not have wanted to share Lizzie with Daddy.

But the onus fell on Lizzie, as her lifestyle suggested that she certainly could have been unhinged by the circumstances of her upbringing.  The jury found her innocent in a matter of a couple hours, lacking any hard, direct evidence and she lived to the ripe old age of 67 with her inheritance in tack and carrying the secret of her guilt or innocence to the grave.

I wonder what forensic evidence would find if the murders had happened today?  Would it not make a grand TV series if CSI detectives could go back in time to investigate such murders, such as the Bordens, the Lindberg kidnapping, the Zodiac killer and Jack the Ripper?

That’s the story in general, but the style is a rock opera (combining hard rock music with an operatic presentation, in which most of the words/dialogue is sung).  There has been other famous personages from legend and history, as the subject matter for such presentations, like Jesus Christ, Superstar, Jekyll & Hyde, Rent, and John & Rice’s Aida.  Next possible stop, the madcap, mayhem of The Ripper?  I’m sure it’s been thought of.

Although this script/music is not as memorable as the above shows mentioned, the production is!  The delicious, devilish and deadly foursome (Cimma, McDonel, Morrissey & Sheik) that present this lurid tale of the dismembering of the Borden’s, is the selling point for the production!  And the band (Beaton, conductor/music director) also is outstanding!  For once, the music did not overpower the singers,  partly because of good mikes (Cecil Averett, sound designer) and partly because of the intense nature of many songs/singers.  Personally, I preferred the ballads, Maybe Someday, Will You Stay? and Watchmen for the Morning, beautifully performed by the cast.  

Riordan has assembled a perfect cast and band for this show.  And the stark setting and inventive lighting (Daniel Meeker) adds greatly to the success of the production.  A word of warning, though, you might not want to sit in the front row because of a very clever prop device.  Can’t tell you more but if you’ve ever seen a stage show with Galliger, you might get the idea, only it’s not watermelon juice that will be coming at you.

I recommend this show but it is very adult in language and subject matter.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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