Blood Relations (December 2-19, 2010)

“Blood Relations”: The script is a hatchet job

By Christian Carvajal

Here’s what most of us “know” about Massachusetts spinster Lizzie Andrew Borden: In 1892, she took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks, then dispensed another 41 whacks to eliminate her father. As with so much common knowledge, it’s mostly wrong. Borden’s stepmother received fewer than 20 blows, her father got 11, and despite inconsistent testimony, Borden was acquitted. The killer was never identified.

It’s clear Blood Relations playwright Sharon Pollock knows much about the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden. She knows, for example, that Lizzie had an intense friendship with actress Nance O’Neil in later years, and Andrew was a notorious tightwad who killed Lizzie’s pet pigeons with, you guessed it, an axe. What’s not clear is what Pollock thinks about all this. “I don’t know if I could describe in a definitive and absolute way ‘the truth’ of the play,” she admits in a program note. Well, I can’t, either, thanks to her boneheaded final line. Director Tim Samland throws in enough yelling and family melodrama to keep me wondering whodunit, but Pollock leaves him – and us – hanging.

The show has a pulpy (if sometimes trashy) appeal and benefits from solid performances, including that of stage newcomer Korja Giles as Lizzie’s hangdog sister, Emma. Jodi Hooper is fine throughout as both Borden and her maid. Jenny Greenlee is compelling when playing Borden in an account of the murders, but implausible in sinuously stylized scenes as “Actress” (O’Neil?). Eric Mark (“Andrew”) is spot-on until Act I goes way over the top. The ends of both acts are clunky, in both writing and, no pun intended, execution.

Theater Artists Olympia’s production skillfully repurposes a set from a previous Samland effort, The Uninvited. Chad Carpenter’s lighting design is professional as always, but Christina Hughes’ costumes unflatteringly reveal the troupe’s limited budget.

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