So right now I am in the middle of catching up on my Shakespeare (I am woefully under-read when it comes to Shakespeare…which is really sad since I produce Shakespeare in the Park annually), plus re-reading both The Glass Menagerie (by Tennessee Williams) and Eurydice (by the ever-amazing Sarah Ruhl) for the intermediate playwriting class that I teach on Saturdays at the local library. Why am I telling you all this? The real question is “Hmmm…waitaminute-is-this-just-a-big-fat-excuse-for-not-having-read-any-new-works-by-women-playwrights-recently?”
Why yes…yes it is.
So I’m going to fudge a little and tell you about one of my favorite theatrical experiences (even if I haven’t actually READ the play): seeing Blood Relations by Sharon Pollock at the Shaw Festival in Canada.
I just realized it has literally been a decade – a FULL DECADE – since I saw this play (craziness!). I remember this because (bunny trail) after we saw the play I and the three other ladies I was with were starving and we found that absolutely no restaurants were open…except in casinos. And I was the only one under 21. And even though I had no intention of drinking, they check your ID at the door since free drinks are abundant. Fail.
Fortunately, in Canada, the legal drinking age is 18! (Yes, I can literally hear you under-21-year-olds renewing your passport and hopping in the car.) And since I was 19…SUCCESS!
But back to the real story. 🙂
Blood Relations is a compelling mystery/drama about Lizzie Borden, the infamous 19th century alleged ax murderer, exonerated in court but condemned by society as the killer of her father and step-mother. The play (which had a stunning set, by the by) opens on Lizzie Borden and a woman simply known as “The Actress,” who is questioning Lizzie about the day of the murders. The biggest question hanging on her tongue – the one she cannot help asking – is “Did you do it, Lizzie? Did you?”
This is when the play does what no other artistic medium can do (not well, anyway); Lizzie offers to guide The Actress through the days leading up to the murders with Lizzie playing the role of the family’s maid and The Actress taking on the role of Lizzie herself. It’s almost like a play within a play – we watch them interact with Lizzie’s father, step-mother, sister, a family friend and doctor – but it’s more like a living memory imparted on someone else. Lizzie doesn’t bring in other actors to interact with The Actress; she weaves a tale so intricately that The Actress brings everyone back to life so she can experience exactly what Lizzie went through. And what’s really amazing about this play is that the question “Did you do it, Lizzie?” is never answered; all we learn is what The Actress – and indeed, what we – might have been compelled to do in Lizzie’s place.
Sharon Pollock is one of Canada’s most well-known female playwrights, and she has been praised for being “drawn to issues and ideas” in her writing. The issue in Blood Relations goes beyond the quandary into a historical murder mystery, and instead asks the audience to consider what impact psychological abuse might have on a person, and whether or not it might lead them to kill. In essence, Pollock asks us to feel empathy towards a possible murderer, and to ask ourselves if we – though not murderers ourselves – would have, could have, considered such a crime.
I’ll be adding Sharon Pollock to my list of female playwrights whose works I must read…and soon.