BWW Review: Epic Theatre Company's twisty, fabulist LIZZIE BORDEN, LIZZIE BORDEN
Among the delights of postmodern theater are carefree mashups of reality and fiction, blurred genres, and coaxing new meaning out of old material. The Epic Theatre Company's "Lizzie Borden, Lizzie Borden" gleefully takes an axe to history, and in the process creates an intriguing, engaging evening that cleverly remakes well-known myths.
Kevin Broccoli wrote and directed this compact (85-minute) yet convoluted retelling that blends the historical Lizzie with contemporary (and literary) characters who slide back and forth in time. Whether you decide the proceedings comprise witchcraft, alternate reality, or metaphor, it's all good magic-realist fun, and the script pops with clever, pointed irony.
Vivienne Carrette is stunning as Lizzie, whom we find in her 1892 home reading a book that has mysteriously appeared from the future. Carrette skillfully captures the dark core of desperation at Lizzie's heart and her yearning for resolution. In an early confrontation with her stepmother Abby, played with frosty and menacing reserve by Nancy Winokoor, the two spit out their hate for each other.
No surprise that this Lizzie ends up pumping Bridget, the maid (Kate Lester, who plays with grit and energy) for advice on witchcraft. "There's power in not being paid when attention is the currency," Bridget warns her. Kimberly Paine does a fine turn as Lizzie's long-suffering sister. Eric Behr is a breezily gruff Father, ably showing why he deserves an axe to the head, as he asks Lizzie to kill her pet birds: "Part of being an adult is taking something you love and smothering it."
Meanwhile, up the timeline in contemporary Atlantic City, a young woman named Lo is trying to scrape by. Tammy Brown, who has long been one of the standout performers at the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield, is commanding and complex as the driven and conflicted Lo. Whether she's begging her bartender boss (Jomo Peters) for a chance to take over his aunt's house in Fall River as a bed and breakfast, or trying to convince her lover, Amy (played with slinky world-weariness by Kerry Giorgi) to accompany her, Brown brings a solid reality that grounds Lo's character.
Lizzie flees and meets the Man on the Train (Kevin Thibault) who may be the author of the book from the future - or perhaps just another character. Meanwhile, Lo has headed north and taken up residence in a Fall River house that wavers between her present and Lizzie's reality. When Lizzie returns with an adopted daughter (a gleefully creepy Vanessa Paige) wise beyond her years in the ways of reality manipulation, things become even more complicated, folks die horribly offstage, and fans of Nabokov and Austen will get a chuckle.
If it all sounds a bit loopy, well, yes, yes it is. But in a delightful, sly way that acknowledges that the audience is in on the jokes. "What you're living now is some sort of hellish fan fiction," one character observes. If this sort of wink-at-the-audience meta-theater is your cup of tea, you'll have a fun time at this show.
In a program note, Broccoli notes that this is the first of a linked series of plays, the "Epic Universe," on the model of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In keeping with that promise, be sure to stick around after bows for the "post-credits" scene. As with all expanded universe efforts, it will be interesting to see how that final little vignette plays into the ongoing story arc.
"Lizzie Borden, Lizzie Borden," written and directed by Kevin Broccoli. Epic Theatre Company, at the James and Gloria Maron Cultural Arts Center/Academy Players, 180 Buttonhole Drive, Providence, RI 02909. Performances March 9, 15, 16; 7pm, March 10, 17; 3pm. Tickets $20 General Admission, $15 Seniors, $10 Students, available at https://www.epictheatreri.org/blog/lizzie-borden-lizzie-borden-makes-its-world-premiere Runtime 85 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Photo credit: Dave Cantelli/Epic Theatre Company