Review: Blood Relations puts us inside ax-killer Lizzie Borden's head

Andrew Borden (Tom Browne) confronts distraught daughter, Lizzie (Samantha Currie) in Neighbourhood Players
Andrew Borden (Tom Browne) confronts distraught daughter, Lizzie (Samantha Currie) in Neighbourhood Players' dramatic-tragedy Blood Relations.
— image credit: Peter w. Rusland

Humanity's latent animal instincts were brilliantly evoked during Friday's production of Blood Relations.

Neighbourhood Players' director Mike Moroz's seven actors earned a deserved standing ovation after mounting Sharon Pollock's gripping dramatic tragedy surrounding Victorian spinster Lizzie Borden's trial for the ax murder of two relatives.

Moroz's fledgling troupe used Pollock's penetrating script to bring history to life, the audience becoming the jury given the back story of why Lizzie may have murdered her wealthy father Andrew, and stepmother Abigail.

It's a murder, but the mystery remains about if, and why, the gentle socialite brutally killed her family.

Borden was acquitted in her 1893 Massachusetts trial. Those proceedings could easily have happened today.

Legal questions were outweighed by moral ones in Blood Relations.

Friday's mesmerized, Neighbourhood Playhouse audience (inside Maple Bay's Bay Film Studios) crawled inside the confused head of Lizzie, depicted alternatively by Samantha Currie and Rosalynd Roome.

Skilled support came from sterling actors who seemed just as curious as their viewers about what would drive someone to kill — and if we could also be pushed that far.

Lizzie wasn't capable of killing, her jury ruled.

But 10 years later, her actress friend (Currie) demands to know if Lizzie (Roome) really killed her father and his wife — despite Lizzie testifying a burglar was the murderer.

Seance-like, we visit the stiff Borden home where shrewd tightwad Andrew loves daughters Lizzie (Currie) and Emma (Kelly Barnum), while tolerating his second wife, Abigail (Kathy Harper).

Lizzie isn't so tolerant.

The free-spirit flirts with married Dr. Patrick (Jake Robinson), but defies Andrew's demands to marry single dad, Johnny McCloud.

Lizzie dreams of having the means to live life her way. Her problem is "the cow" (Abigail) who's willed the Borden farm-estate, while Abigail's brother, Harry Wingate (David Mathews), circles like a buzzard.

Lizzie's personal prison is symbolized by her pet birds in the barn.

Andrew kills them all with an ax after some kids break in — the catalyst for catastrophe.

Absorbing scenes on Moroz's thrust stage, plus shifting lighting, show us Lizzie's mind at the end of its tether.

Her desperation is seen by maid Bridget (Roome). She sympathizes, but misses the depth of Lizzie's angst until it's too late.

The full weight of Currie's lifetime acting career is felt as the caged schizophrenic feminist.

A cornered dual personality would surely explain Lizzie's chilling actions.

Currie's amazing mix of expressions revealed the perpetual emotion of Lizzie's internal turmoil.

That conflict — stoked by her overbearing dad and nagging-hag stepmother — fueled this play's red-hot intensity.

Roome's puritanical poise as Bridget, plus Brown's muscular turn as Andrew, helped us play shrink in this thinking-person's tragedy.

Blood Relations truly transcended community theatre.

It runs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 24, and Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.

Dramatic-tragedy rating: 10 whacks out of 10.

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