Friday, October 21, 2016

The Drowning Girls—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR

“Nearer My God To Thee”

his cautionary, true story is written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic.  It is directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Founding Artistic Director) and is playing in their space at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St., through October 31st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-345-9590.

This is an appropriate but sobering tale for Halloween.  It is interesting to note the title of the hymn above, something the killer hummed often, was also reportedly the song the band was playing on the Titanic before she went under.  Prophetic, you might say.  The facts of the case are pretty straight-forward.  It seems that George Joseph Smith (under aliases) drowned three separate wives in their bathtubs, one per year, from 1912-14.  He was hanged for his crimes in 1915.  But the message here is larger than that.

It seems that Smith, also known as Henry Williams and John Lloyd, was a charismatic man of no means, who bilked wealthy young women out of their monies and then disappeared.  But, not content for some reason with just robbery, he resorted to marrying and then murdering them, I assume, because there was more money in confiscating their inheritances and life insurance policies, then simply taking their savings.  There was no doubt he was the culprit but the groundwork for his crimes had been laid down for many years before.

Women through this period of time were deliberately kept in the dark as to how the world worked.  Education for young girls was not encouraged, women did not have the right to vote or own property and even getting a job, other than as a servant or as a teacher, seamstress, laundress, et. al., was not desired by this patriarchal society.  Even law enforcement, juries, business heads, etc. were all men.  In short, women were to get married (to as wealthy a man as possible), have kids and run the household, nothing else.  Love should have no real bearing on this union and it was still customary in having parents arranging marriages for their daughters.

In this case, the three women in question, Bessie (Jessi Walters), Alice (Autumn Buck) and Margaret (Jessica Geffen) were all vulnerable and under this hypnotic air of indifference by the Society at large, to be led like sheep and, in these cases, to the slaughter.  Smith may have been the hand of the executioner but Society had already laid the foundation for these pre-ordained sacrifices.

In my opinion, women may have come a long way in altering that groundwork but it is still inherent in some instances.  Just the other day I overheard a mother saying to her young daughter, “and when are you going to give us grand-babies?”  Is there any choice involved for this young lady, or even Love as a factor?  Also, the male judge, that sentenced a young rapist to only a few months in jail, is appalling.  Shades of a different century still prevalent?!

What is remarkable about this production is the fact that it is up to the three women in question to tell their tale from their perspective.  The sodden voices are allowed to speak and their stories are even sadder than their fates because they, from the outset, had the cards stacked against them.  Also remarkable are the fact that the three actors involved play all the various characters throughout the story, including servants, family, lawyers, doctors, business owners and even the killer himself.  Walters, Buck and Geffen deserve a standing ovation for traversing this difficult territory and being able to keep the story straight and flowing!

Palmer has, once again, dipped into an unknown stream and been able to snag a beauty as a showcase for him and some amazing actors.  Also, the set by the very talented Megan Wilkerson and sound and lighting by Palmer and Jim Ricks-White are an absolute must in the success of this show!  There season of shows are never disappointing and always breaking new, artistic grounds.  And now they will have a new home in the Spring to develop even more their dreams.  I salute them!

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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