Georgia Beaty, Courtney Shields, Mercedes de la Zerda.  Photo: NANCII BERNARD.

Poster credit: Ian PattonTheatre at UBC
Blood Relations by Sharon Pollock
Dates and Venue
21 March - 6 April 2013, 7.30 pm | Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC

Director Jennette White Set Designer Diana Sepulveda Navarrette Costume Designer Elliot Squire Lighting Brady Villadsen Projection and media design Clayton Brown Sound Designer Scott Zechner Original music and viola John Dickinson Stage Manager Shelby Bushell

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Sharon Pollock’s play explores the possibilities that might have moved Lizzie Borden to murder her step-mother and her father in River Falls, near Boston in 1892: the quarrelsome family, the grasping brother-in-law, the restrictive, narrow-minded social milieu – the background of the tragedy – as well as Lizzie’s own character.  Not so much, "Did you, Lizzie?" but "How could you, Lizzie?"

The play is set in the family home some 10 years after the murder and Lizzie’s acquittal. Lizzie (Courtney Shields) has invited a friend to stay – the Actress (Mercedes de la Zerda) – who annoys Lizzie by nagging her to say whether she did or she didn’t. Lizzie challenges her to find out for herself, and what better way for an actress to find such an answer than by role-playing. In this play-within-the-play, the Actress plays Lizzie and Lizzie plays the Irish maid Bridget, occasionally stepping out of character to give the Actress Lizzie a note. No, she didn’t have this or that choice; sometimes she had dreams. Together they enact scenes of Lizzie’s life. It is to the credit of these two fine actors that it is always clear when they are in character as Bridget and Lizzie and when they are themselves as Lizzie and the Actress. They work together like duo musicians playing both with, and off, each other.

The play’s structure allows the rather waspish Lizzie to be the kinder and more pragmatic Bridget. Courtney Shields is excellent here. In the second act Bridget is less in evidence and the Actress completely inhabits her part. As Lizzie begins to see that she should rid herself of her evil step-mother as one removes garden slugs, Mercedes de la Zerda moves into horrifying and horrified territory.

Director Jennette White has also drawn excellent performances from others in the cast. Naomi Vogt gives a very vivid and menacing performance as Mrs. Borden, relieved only by a pitiable moment when she outlines the choices she herself had made in life – to marry a widower and bring up his children and be looked after rather than be alone and poor. The consequences of her choice are appalling.

Georgia Beaty was outstanding as Lizzie’s older sister Emma. A quiet woman, oppressed by the family quarrels and constantly pulled between Lizzie and her parents, Beaty invested her with gentle kindness, avoiding making her an ineffectual nonentity.

Joel Garner played the conniving uncle Harry with considerable zest and credibility. The rest of the cast unfortunately did not show their best work on opening night.

The set by Diana Sepulveda Navarrette showed the interior of the Borden house half-enclosed by a large stylized cage which opened and shut as needed. This worked very well as metaphor and picked up on the various references to birds in the text while the sound design, by Scott Zechner, included bird-song. Apt music was composed and played by John Dickinson. Lighting, occasionally lurid, was by Brady Villadsen. Elliot Squire’s costumes set period and character well. The small changes for Lizzie/Bridget and Actress/Lizzie were simple and clear and very well thought out.

© 2013 Elizabeth Paterson