An excellent house was riveted by yesterday’s matinee performance (Sunday, February 1) of Blood Relations, and about 75% of the audience stuck around for the Talkback which followed.
The whole cast was present:
Kathleen Allamby as Emma Borden (Lizzie’s older sister);
Andrea Irwin Brown as The Actress (who also “plays” Lizzie in flashbacks);
Steven Burley as Defense Lawyer and Dr. Patrick;
Rob Candy as Harry (brother of Lizzie & Emma’s stepmother);
Thomas Gough as Andrew Borden (Lizzie & Emma’s father);
Marisa King as Lizzie (who also “plays” the Bordens’ maid Bridget in flashbacks);
Sheila Russell as Abigail Borden (Lizzie & Emma’s stepmother).
In addition, director Barbara Larose, assistant director Ellen Green, and sound designer Rick Jones took part in the Talkback, which was facilitated by co-producer Carina Cojeen. The other designers – Margaret Spence (costumes), Ed Rosing (set) and Gabriel Cropley (lighting) – unfortunately could not make it.
Barbara asked the cast seated onstage to introduce themselves, and Thomas Gough, who was after Rob Candy, sparked laughter by starting “I’m Rob – oh, wait…”!
Barbara told the audience that Sharon Pollock’s 1980 script, which won a Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, was previously produced at Alumnae Theatre in 1994. It is remounted this season as a ‘Retrospective Choice’ – part of our Countdown to 100 – Alumnae Theatre Company celebrates its 100th birthday in February 1918! Barbara commented that people had asked her why Blood Relations was selected as this season’s ‘Retrospective Choice’, and her answer is that its themes still resonate today, particularly the aspect of how women fit into society. She noted that Lizzie Borden was probably the first [alleged] celebrity murderess – the female O.J. Simpson of her time!
Following is a rough transcript of the 25-minute Q&A. Unless otherwise indicated, the answers were provided by director Barbara Larose.
Q: The script is ambiguous about whether Lizzie committed the murders or not. Did you and the cast discuss and/or make up your minds in rehearsal?
A: I told the cast they could each make their own decision, but as a director, I did not. I wanted to say open.
A: (Marisa King) I think Lizzie did it!
A: (Thomas Gough) The only mystery is why she didn’t do it sooner!
A: (Sheila Russell) I think she did it. It was a very dysfunctional family. And it was so hot.
A: (Rob Candy) I think she was guilty, but also crazy.
A: (Steven Burley) I didn’t decide. As the Defense, I had to believe she didn’t do it. Notes from Andrew Jackson Jennings, the Borden family attorney, were made public a couple of years ago. They provided a lot of material for Lizzie’s defense lawyer.
Q: How did they manage to get her acquitted?
A: It was an all-male jury, some with daughters of their own. Lizzie’s defense team played on their sympathies and prejudices: how could a woman be capable of such a horrible crime?
Q: Is that a real axe?
A: Yes, we’re using a real axe onstage, but it’s not sharpened. It has to be a real axe because Mr. Borden buries in the table in Act I – that’s not a sound effect – that’s the real axe striking the table!
Q: Was it a directorial choice to switch Lizzies?
A: No, it’s in the script. The playwright takes the audience on a journey with The Actress as Lizzie.
A: (Thomas Gough) The Actress was a real person, her name was Nance O’Neil. She was quite well-known in the early 1900’s.
Q: Were Lizzie and The Actress a couple?
A: They were very good friends. [ED. NOTE: this was said with no emphasis and just a slight twinkle!]
Q: How did Lizzie spend her inheritance?
A: She didn’t spend wildly – she stayed in the same town [Fall River, Massachusetts] and bought a nicer house.
Q: Lovely effect with the people standing behind the curtains. Were the screens in the script, or a directorial choice?
A: Sharon Pollock’s script only stated that the actors should not leave the stage. Having them stand behind the scrims was my idea – to convey the impression that Lizzie was never free from these people – they were always shadowy presences in her life, even after they were dead. They are memories who have a constant presence.
A: (Rob Candy) Steven and I are developing really powerful calf muscles.
A: (Steven Burley) Lemme tell ya, when you have to stifle a sneeze…!
Q: I saw a movie years ago, with Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie Borden. Don’t remember the character of Harry.
A: Oh, yes: and she does the murders naked to avoid blood spatter! (In the actual court testimony, Lizzie was seen burning clothes 3 days later.) Sharon Pollock created the character of Harry Wingate (Abigail’s brother) for the play. In real life, the uncle figure was John Morse, brother of Andrew Borden’s late first wife. He was a suspect in the murders.
Q: Thomas Gough’s bio said he was close to 100. Really??
A: (Thomas) I’m 107.
A: (Kathleen Allamby) And I’m 94!
Q: Who are “the girls” that Emma goes to visit?
A: (Kathleen) My idea is that they are neighbours or good friends.
A: (Sheila Russell) Emma and Lizzie had cousins with money who lived [in the “good” neighbourhood] on the hill.
Q: Is the Lizzie Borden rhyme attributed to an author?
A: No. And it’s in the script, so if the author was known it would be credited.
A: (Thomas Gough) There’s a rumour that it was written by Emily Dickinson when she was drunk!
Q: How did you come to the decision to use a real axe in the play?
A: I wanted to balance realism and the abstract – use the reality to create real moments. My central image is the carousel – see how the rounded edge of the platform onstage mimics the shape; the lights and coloured flags during Lizzie’s carousel monologue, etc. That monologue seemed like a metaphor for the murders.
Q: I enjoyed the actors’ movements – it flowed.
A: Good! Ginette Mohr did a Laban movement workshop with the cast.
Q: What was the significance of the note that Abigail receives?
A: It’s from her husband, summoning her to town to witness the property transfer in his will – as suggested by Harry in an earlier scene.
A: (Rob Candy) And if she’d just read the note downstairs, she’d have been OK!
A: (Thomas Gough) There was talk of a note in the real case, but it was never found.
Q: Did you study the character of the father?
A: I wanted to avoid a stereotypical “evil” Mr. and Mrs. Borden and show their humanity. When Mrs. B says to Lizzie “You don’t have a choice”, she’s not being mean: it’s a statement of fact. Back then, a woman DIDN’T have a choice (to get married). The Bordens were people of their time. Some people are apart from their time, most live in their time.
A: (Rob Candy) Thomas is actually a very violent person backstage. If I steal his crossword he goes ballistic!
Q: Why so much pressure for Lizzie to get married [to Johnny McLeod with three little monster-children], but none for Emma, who was older?
A: Because Emma’s duty was to stay at home and look after parents in their old age!
** Blood Relations : Part drama, part mystery, all compelling. “Did you, Lizzie? Lizzie, did you?” **
Next performance Wed February 4 at 8pm. Tickets are 2-for-1. firstname.lastname@example.org