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Review: Blood Relations – Raven Playhouse

Blood RelationsBlood Relations
Collaborative Artists Ensemble – Los Angeles, CA
The Raven Playhouse
$20
Remaining shows: May 16- June 15, 2014, Fri/Sat @ 8 PM; Sun @ 7 PM
But Tickets Here
By Kristina Lendrum

Works based on real people are hit or miss; whether embellishing the story to the point of fiction or failing to present the material in an interesting way, there are multiple pitfalls. So to take on that risk, as well as using an unconventional method of storytelling is no easy feat – yet it is one that Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s performance of Blood Relations, written by Sharon Pollock and directed by Steve Jarrard, pulls off with style.

Based on Lizzie Borden’s famous alleged murder of her father and stepmother, the story opens with a woman known only as The Actress (Meg Wallace) visiting with Lizzie (Carolyn Crotty). The conversation soon turns to the murders. When Lizzie finally decides to open up, things get interesting; rather than rely on mere flashbacks, Pollock chooses to have Wallace play “past Lizzie,” while Crotty takes the role of her Irish maid, Bridget.

We are introduced to the rest of the cast: Abigail and Andrew Borden (Deborah Cresswell and Hap Lawrence respectively), as well as Lizzie’s older sister Emma (Amy Moorman), Lizzie’s quasi-romantic interest Patrick (Jay Disney), Abigail’s brother Harry Wingate (Steve Peterson), and a defense attorney (the director himself, Steve Jarrard) who speaks directly to the audience. Immediately, the actors show their strength; each role, whether big or small, is grounded in true emotion – be it positive or negative.

The crowning jewel is how we are led to understand both Lizzie’s mindset and the very real, very destructive way she affects those around her. She is fiercely independent but has no way to show it, leading to her terrible frustration and increasing hatred for Abigail. Lizzie cannot seem to make anyone understand her thoughts. It’s a heart-breaking portrayal of an isolated woman, plagued by feelings she is unable to express.

Wallace shines as this “dark Lizzie.” As time passes, the character becomes more and more unstable, and by the climax, her rage is tangible. The humanity of the supporting characters lends to Lizzie’s own story – Peterson has a delightful sliminess to his performance, Lawrence’s Andrew Borden is a hot-tempered man who nonetheless loves his daughter, and Cresswell is just meddlesome enough to trigger Lizzie’s breakdown while avoiding demonization.

But what of the “present Lizzie?” Crotty plays her with painful realism, weary of her past haunting her. She has started a new life, but it is obvious that she has not escaped. Her face is drawn and her outbursts of optimism quickly give way to a tired solemnity. The last scene ends with an almost playful ambiguity, a bit jarring after the seriousness of the play’s themes. The sacredness of life, women’s roles in society, homosexuality and the societal backlash it did and still does receive are raised in the context of the play. Lizzie’s actions are her own way of responding to and coping with these limitations.

The piece is not without its flaws (it tends a bit towards melodrama) but on the whole, it works. Pollock puts a lot of thought and effort into constructing the story as the natural outcome of the human element it contains. One could argue that it attempts to justify murder. Although, the alternate concept, that it forces us to see that behind every murder (or alleged murder) is a real human being, is very thought provoking. Blood Relations may be set in the past, but the questions it raises are still relevant now. It will leave you wondering: if you were in Lizzie’s shoes, what would your answer be to the question that followed her to the grave –

“Did you?”

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