The Theatre of Northeastern Connecticut's current show at the Bradley Playhouse in Putnam, is the chilling play within a play about Lizzie Borden called "Blood Relations" by Sharon Pollack. The show is not a whodunnit, its appeal lies in the way it builds to the eventual murders by learning how Lizzie conducted her life. The socio-historical conditions are an important factor in how women behaved in the 19th century. Stifiling repression was the prevailing fact for 30-something spinsters in a puritanical Victorian world. Lizzie's family world is ruled by her hefty, cantankerous stepmother and authoritarian, miserly father who kills her pet birds. Lizzie's older sister, Emma, sulks in her room because she hates to hear noisy arguments and chatter below. The stepmother's greedy brother wants the deed to their childhood farm and wants the father to sign it over to his sister in his will. Lizzie is caught between the married Dr. Patrick whom she fends off playfully, and widower Harry MacLeod, father of three boys whom her family wants her to marry. Up against the social pressures of the day, it is easy to accept the possibility of Lizzie being driven to a final act of desperation. The show is done as a reenactment, 10 years after the trial in 1892 with Lizzie and her friend, the Actress (based on Bostonian Nance O'Neill) play the roles of Bridget, the Irish maid and Lizzie. Jon Loux directs the show with a deft hand and creates an atmosphere of Victorian ambiance with 7 strong performers playing their roles to their utmost.
Not only does Jon create the 19th century mood, his set designed by Diana Burdick reflects his vision with the old fashioned wall paper that is not cut out for the set but is chopped out at the top where it meets the blacks. The furniture is authentic looking and the stairway where Lizzie confronts her stepmother is splendid, too. The changing of the 2 characters from past to present is handled well by Jon's strong direction and his blocking especially of the dish throwing scene is topnotch. Costumes by Pat Green give the finishing touches to this period piece from the past.
The two actresses playing these demanding roles are excellent. Marcia Murphy is the actress in the present and Lizzie in the past. She utters pages and pages of dialogue to show how a woman of the past was mistreated. Her lines flow beautifully and her interactions with her fellow castmates is splendid. The argument scene with the dishes is reminiscent of Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker". That scene and the scenes leading up to the double murders are theatre at its best. Marcia shows the psychotic behavior of Lizzie so the audience can try to understand her misguided reasonings. She also has funny lines which help to lighten the mood especially when describing her stepmother as that fat cow. Tanya Topazio is just as good in her role of Lizzie in 1902 and Bridget in the past. She uses an Irish brogue to help the audience differentiate between the two roles. Tanya is dour at the beginning of the show to reflect the toll the years have taken on her but comes alive when she begins to weave the tale of what might have happened in Fall River, MA that day in the summer of 1892.
Jill Luberto plays the older more demure and polite Borden daughter, Emma. She still relies on the lessons she learned from Miss Cornelia's school of etiquette. Jill conveys the character's adherence to the rules of the day and how one must escape from nasty and unpleasant confrontations. Carol Bachman plays the shrewish, Abigail Borden wonderfully, you want to boo her at show's end. How anyone could live with this woman is beyond current day mentality? Carol displays the unpleasantness of this creature so you can see how someone might be driven to an act of desperation. Mark Leone plays the stuffy, bewildered, Mr. Borden who is caught between two women with fiery temperments. His anger builds to a peak when Lizzie defies him about dating Harry and he kills her birds. Bill Corriveau plays the slimy, money hungry Harry who yearns to take over the Borden's fortune. He plays this smarmy role with ease inducing the crowd to despise him and his sister. The final member of the cast is Bernard Galvin who plays Dr. Patrick, the Irishman who has the hots for Lizzie but is already married. He also has a short scene as the defense lawyer. Bernard's Irish brogue is well done and his scenes with Marcia help to lighten the heaviness of what is about to take place around them. So for a fantastic night of riveting theatre, be sure to catch "Blood Relations" at the Bradley Playhouse which was built as a theatre in 1901 by Ransom Bradley and designed and constructed by Charles Kelley with 943 seats. It is currently undergoing renovations and now seats 400 people. This gorgeous theatre is a hidden jewel in Putnam, CT and is definitely a theatre to be found by avid theatre goers. Tell them Tony sent you.