Tuesday, March 13, 2018

CAUGHT • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

An art installation titled Devil in a Red Dress greets the guests downstairs at the Rep’s studio theatre. Featuring the work of visiting Chinese conceptual artist, Lin Bo, the showing is complete with docents and a program guide. After a brief introduction by director Seth Gordon, Bo steps up to the podium and talks about the inspiration for his work, and how his viral, visionary protest project commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre resulted in his brutal imprisonment by an oppressive Chinese government. With a profile in The New Yorker magazine and a book on the way, Lin Bo is starting to garner attention. He’s got an intriguing story to tell, but it’s not what it seems.

Lin Bo (Kenneth Lee).
Photo Credit: Peter Wochniak
Actually, nothing in the Rep’s production of Christopher Chen’s Caught is what it seems.

I’ll remain slim on the particulars to avoid any spoilers, but this inventive trip down the rabbit hole revels in clouding the line that separates truth from fabrication, examines journalism versus fiction, and throws in a little cultural appropriation for good measure. With each subsequent scene eroding what’s come just before, Chen’s play engages you in the way it obliterates the fourth wall, but skids just past the point of credibility on occasion.

Lin Bo (Kenneth Lee), Bob (Jeffrey Cummings)
and Joyce (Rachel Fenton).
Photo Credit: Peter Wochniak
Kenneth Lee is polished as Lin Bo, whether he's waxing philosophical about the contemporary art scene, or being grilled about the details in his memoir. Rachel Fenton as Joyce, a writer hoping to catch her first big break, and later as a curator, and Rachel Lin as playwright Wang Min, resolute in her points of view, are both convincing. Along with Lee, these three are agile in their ability switch gears from scene to scene. Jeffrey Cummings rounds out the cast as Bob, Joyce’s smugly melodramatic magazine editor.

If you’re up for an entertaining night out, and a bit of a mindfuck, check out the players at the Rep’s studio theatre as they collectively ask what the “rules of truth” are, and then watch them blow it all up before your eyes.

Wang Min (Rachel Lin) and Curator (Rachel Fenton).
Photo Credit: Peter Wochniak

Written by Christopher Chen
Directed by Seth Gordon
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through March 25 | tickets: $45 - $69.50
Performances Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sunday evenings at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays and selected Saturday evenings at 8pm, Matinee performances are Saturdays at 4pm and Sundays at 2pm

Lin Bo: Kenneth Lee*
Joyce/Curator: Rachel Fenton
Bob: Jeffrey Cummings*
Wang Min: Rachel Lin*

Wang Min (Rachel Lin) and Lin Bo (Kenneth Lee).
Photo Credit: Peter Wochniak
Scenic Designer: Robert Mark Morgan
Costume Designer: Felia K. Davenport
Lighting Designer: Ann G. Wrightson
Sound Designer: Rusty Wandall
Projection Designer: Kylee Loera
Installation Artist: Albert Kuo
Stage Manager: Shannon B. Sturgis*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

ANYTHING GOES • New Line Theatre

The racy shenanigans and silly scheming going on among the passengers aboard a transatlantic cruise in Cole Porter’s, Anything Goes, offered a welcomed breather from the gloom of the Great Depression when it first set sail in 1934. New Line’s staging of the show’s 1962 version, energetically directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, includes a song list jam-packed with Porter standards like “You’re the Top,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “Anything Goes,” and a strong cast to make those numbers soar. Though the book’s greatest strength may be its role as a vehicle for the tunes, it does offer a keen depiction of an America where gangsters are worshipped like celebrities and evangelism is akin to show business. Not much has changed on that score.

Evan Fornachon is Billy Crocker, a young stockbroker there to see off his boss, Wall Street exec. Elisha J. Whitney (Jeffrey M. Wright). He decides to stow away on the SS American after he spots Hope Harcourt (Eileen Engel), a girl whose heart he aims to win. Hope is traveling to London with her well-heeled husband-to-be, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (Zachary Allen Farmer), and her social-climbing mother, Mrs. Harcourt (Kimmie Kidd-Booker). Billy’s pal Reno Sweeney (Sarah Porter), who traded up in her career from evangelist to nightclub singer, decides to help Billy in his romantic quest, along with Moonface Martin -- Public Enemy No. 13 (Aaron Allen), a gangster in priest’s clothing, and Bonnie Letour (Sarah Gene Dowling), moll to a goon called Snake Eyes Johnson.

Reno (Sarah Porter) and the company of Anything Goes.
Photo Credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Porter’s Reno Sweeney -- bold, assured, and a little indecent, delivers a gleaming performance crooning through Cole Porter’s whip-smart lyrics, convincingly encouraging everyone to join the fun. Fornachon is smooth and appealing in portrayal and voice as Billy, whether he’s posing as Public Enemy No. 1 or trying to charm the pants off of Hope. Allen is a lively, humorously reluctant gangster, and thankfully, the ’62 version of the show includes a beefed-up role for Bonnie, and a freewheeling Dowling livens things up considerably with her renditions of “Heaven Hop,” and “Let’s Step Out.” Farmer is most entertaining and spot-on with stiff upper lip-ness as Sir Evelyn -- a humorless blue blood who starts to warm once he sets his eyes on Sweeney, and Engel is in fine voice as Hope Harcourt. Kidd-Booker is a hoot as her ceaselessly affronted mother, with Wright as a pitch perfectly gruff (and later tipsy as hell) Elisha J. Whitney.

Bonnie (Sarah Gene Dowling), Billy (Evan Fornachon)
and Moonface (Aaron Allen).
Photo Credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line’s black box space is set up longways, with scenic designer Robb Lippert’s multi-leveled ship occupying the length, with the bow jutting out at an angle. Musical director Nicolas Valdez and the New Line Band do a fine job with the music (complete with little sailor caps) and Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack provide the choreography with Colene Fornachon devising the show’s swanky costumes.

Between the unlikely pairings and the trashy fun, this low comedy classic is bound to leave you with a smile on your face. It’s playing at the Marcelle until the 24th.

Reno (Sarah Porter), Sir Evelyn (Zachary Allen Farmer)
and Hope (Eileen Engel).
Photo Credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Music/lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, 
Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive
through March 24 | tickets: $15 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm
$20 for adults and $15 for students/seniors on Thursdays; and $25 for adults and $20 for students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays

Chastity (Larissa White), Charity (Alyssa Wolf),
Purity (Michelle Sauer) and Virtue (Sara Rae Womack).
Photo Credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Moonface Martin: Aaron Allen
Bonnie Letour: Sarah Gene Dowling
Hope Harcourt: Eileen Engel
Sir Evelyn Oakleigh: Zachary Allen Farmer
Billy Crocker: Evan Fornachon
Mrs. Harcourt: Kimmie Kidd-Booker
Reno Sweeney: Sarah Porter
Elisha J. Whitney: Jeffrey M. Wright

Reno’s Angels
Purity: Michelle Sauer
Chastity: Larissa White
Charity: Alyssa Wolf
Virtue: Sara Rae Womack

Bishop/Captain: Dominic Dowdy-Windsor
Reporter/Purser: Will Pendergast
Everybody Else: Jason Blackburn, Clayton Humburg

Sailor (Jason Blackburn), Mrs. Harcourt (Kimmie Kidd-Booker),
Billy (Evan Fornachon) and Captain (Dominick Dowdy-Windsor).
Photo Credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Musical Director: Nicolas Valdez
Choreographers: Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack
Stage Manager: Erin Goodenough
Scenic and Lighting Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Colene Fornachon
Assistant Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Ryan Day
Props Master: Kimi Short
Scenic Artists: Grace Brunstein, Judy Brunstein, Tamar Crump, Kathleen Dwyer, Mattilyn Johnson, Gary Karasek, Marija Metiva
Scenic Crew: Richard Brown, Nick Brunstein, Melanie Kozak, Patrick Donnigan, Paul Troyke, Kate Wilkerson
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Photographer: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Bonnie (Sarah Gene Dowling)
and the company of Anything Goes.
Photo Credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Nicolas Valdez
Trumpet: Ron Foster
Second Keyboard: Joel Hackbarth
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Guitar/Banjo: Adam Rugo
Bass: Jake Stergos

Thursday, February 15, 2018

BLACKBIRD • St. Louis Actors’ Studio

The air in a dreary office lunchroom is thick when Ray finds himself there with Una. They haven’t seen each other since their relationship ended fifteen years ago -- when he was 40 and she was 12.

It seems eerily timely that St. Louis Actors’ Studio would stage David Harrower’s disturbing drama now, amidst the attention the MeToo movement has garnered with sexual abuse and harassment allegations taking up residence in the headlines. Braced with strong performances and unyielding direction, the psychological bruises on our two characters, sustained as a result of a young girl’s sexualization, will leave a mark.

After seeing a picture of Ray (John Pierson) and his work colleagues in a magazine, Una (Elizabeth Birkenmeier) has tracked him down and stands before him, like an exposed nerve, looking for answers, while he fidgets in a panic of annoyance and apprehension. Their first words to each other are sporadic and fraught, but after their pretense dissolves away, they give recollections of their three-month relationship, the night it all ended, and the perverse connection that neither has managed to be rid of is laid bare. After pursuing an increasing level of intimacy with Una after meeting her at a family barbecue, Ray was subsequently convicted of child abuse. Their involvement led Ray to prison, and left Una emotionally incapacitated.

Ray (John Pierson) and Una (Elizabeth Birkenmeier).
Photo Credit: Patrick Huber
Pierson and Birkenmeier’s performances are stunning. Pierson's reluctance to being pulled back into a perilous allure is painfully believable. He's willing to admit guilt, but not necessarily wrongdoing, achieving a level of honesty that manages to illicit a modicum of pity. Birkenmeier reveals a woman whose maturity has been stunted -- confused but still wanting to please, and still mourning what she sees as an unrequited love. Annamaria Pileggi’s direction is carefully calibrated, maintaining a constant undercurrent of unease, heightened by Patrick Huber’s cluttered set and the close quarters of the Gaslight Theater. 

Una (Elizabeth Birkenmeier)
and Ray (John Pierson).
Photo Credit: Patrick Huber
Harrower’s play doesn’t moralize or judge. Maybe that’s what makes it so unsettling. It’s bare essentials, taking an unflinching look at two people who, just under the surface, are beyond repair. Blackbird is playing at the Gaslight Theater until the 25th.


Written by David Harrower
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through February 25 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Una: Elizabeth Birkenmeier
Ray: John Pierson*
Girl: Sienna Hahn

Assistant Director: Daniel Washelesky
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige*
Scenic and Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designer: John Pierson*
Technical Director: Joseph Novak
Costume Designer: Teresa Doggett
Props Design: Jess Stamper
Light Board Operator: Sally Liz Evans
Sound Board Operator: Amy J. Paige*
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Saturday, December 23, 2017

REMNANT • Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed open its 11th season with a revival of the theatre’s debut production, Ron Reed’s Remnant. It’s a post-apocalyptic Christmas story that takes place 75 years after a catastrophic plague has forced civilization to hit the restart button. Even the language is in tatters. The vestiges of families that remain fortify as clans, and arm themselves with weapons and guard dogs. Bikers are good to trade with, but not much else, and loners are to be avoided at all costs. Mustard Seed’s production explores the core Holiday sentiment through the eyes of the Wilkin clan, who have decided to celebrate “Christ Mass” for the first time in memory.

Kristn Taler (Michelle Hand),
Barlow Sho’r (Ryan Lawson-Maeske)
and Delmar (Marissa Grice).
Photo credit: John Lamb
With makeshift presents and only shreds of knowledge left over from the “old ones”, Barlow (Ryan Lawson-Maeske), his wife Delmar (Marissa Grice), his sister Annagail (Katy Keating) and cousin Kristn (Michelle Hand) come together to celebrate Christmas. Encircled by the audience on three sides, Kristin Cassidy’s scenic design and Meg Brinkley’s props of "the time before” residuals -- old televisions, film canisters, candles, an old generator and Christmas lights are beautifully set. It gives a sense of a civilization that relies on combing through what’s left of the world, thanks also to Jane Sullivan’s costume design and Zoe Sullivan’s sound design of arid landscapes and dogs, all adding to the dystopia.

Barlow Sho’r (Ryan Lawson-Maeske),
Annagail Booker (Katy Keating)
and Delmar (Marissa Grice).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Once everyone arrives and settles in, including a loner (Adam Flores), who’s hidden from the Wilkins, Kristn highlights the gathering with descriptions of "the three bornings”, slipping a ceremonial wrapping around her neck for the cherished telling. When the loner is discovered, Barlow sees an interloper’s presence as a sacrilege to the ceremony, while others see the loner’s presence as an opportunity for education and acceptance. It’s an age-old tale, but the surroundings the story is couched in gives it a freshness that’s well suited for the season.

Lawson-Maeske’s erratic temper as Barlow provides the foil for the lesson, and Keating’s optimistic sister, Grice’s tentatively open Delmar and Hand’s sage Kristn come together for a nice counter-balance. As the loner, Flores shows just enough menace to make him unpredictable, but winningly open and honest.

It’s got one more performance! Check it out before it’s gone.

• Annagail's jacket has a "JC" on it. Nice.


Loner (Adam Flores)
and Barlow Sho’r (Ryan Lawson-Maeske).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Written by Ron Reed
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd.
through December 23 | tickets: $15 - $35
Performances Tonight at 8pm

Barlow Sho’r: Ryan Lawson-Maeske
Delmar Nu1: Marissa Grice
Annagail Booker: Katy Keating  
Kristn Taler: Michelle Hand
Loner: Adam Flores

Kristn Taler (Michelle Hand),
Barlow Sho’r (Ryan Lawson-Maeske)
and Delmar (Marissa Grice).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Lighting Design: Michael Sullivan
Sound Design: Zoe Sullivan
Scenic Designer: Kristin Cassidy
Props Master: Meg Brinkley
Costume Designer: Jane Sullivan
Assistant Costume Designer: Lindzey Jent
Technical Director: Jon Hisaw
Assistant Technical Director: Tom Stevenson
Executive Director: Bess Moynihan
Production Stage Manager: Traci Clapper
Assistant Stage Manager: Chelsea Krenning
Performing Arts Liaison: Morgan Fisher
Assistant Master Electrician: Justin Chaipet
Stage Management Assistants: Ariella Rovinsky and Merlin Bell

Monday, December 4, 2017

A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE • St. Louis Actors’ Studio

A severed hand sits on the box office desk at the Gaslight Theater -- a little something to get you in the mood for Martin McDonagh’s 2010 dark comedy, A Behanding in Spokane, continuing St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s eleventh season. Violence, profanity and comically ill-advised malice has become a trademark of McDonagh’s (The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman), but this play, his first that’s set in the States, doesn’t quite ring true.

A reliably solid Jerry Vogel is Carmichael -- a dangerous drifter who tosses out derogatory epithets as easily as a scorpion stings. He’s been searching for his hand ever since it was viciously removed by a couple of “hillbillies” some 47 years ago. His search has led him down various dead-ends, and now he finds himself in a dingy hotel room in Indiana, again hoping to be reunited with his long-lost appendage. A couple of impossibly stupid weed dealers, Marilyn (Léerin Campbell) and her boyfriend Toby (Michael Lowe) are hoping to score a reward, but when the hand they produce clearly once belonged to an African American, things go pear shaped pretty quickly. Carmichael leaves the couple behind to chase down an implausible lead that Marilyn and Toby whip up, but not before cuffing them to a radiator and setting a lit candle into the spout of a can of gasoline. Mervyn, the curiously creepy hotel receptionist (William Roth) drops in from time to time to ask questions, and offer ramblings about his hopes of heroic adventures in a hotel where nothing ever happens.

Mervyn (William Roth)
and Carmichael (Jerry Vogel).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
English born to Irish parents, McDonagh has a knack for managing to elicit more and more laughter as the brutality in his plays are ratcheted up, but this time around, something about that usually successful dynamic doesn’t gel. The performances, while offering highlights, remain uneven, but a larger culprit seems to be the script. Flagrant use of the n-word by racist characters is nothing new. Black guys referring to themselves as the n-word isn’t new either. But in breaking out of his familiar setting of craggy Irish countrysides, the American vernacular comes off like a new, unfamiliar toy for McDonagh to play with. This hurts the uncharacteristically sluggish plot -- lighter in weight and logic compared to his past plays, and the characters, especially Marilyn and Toby, whose broad characterizations don’t really give them anywhere to go. Mervyn is an exception, and a committed Roth sells this impervious character with all of the detached, inquisitive naiveté of a child. Vogel’s road-weary Carmichael is nonchalant in his menace, but pointed when he describes how he lost his hand, only reeling it in on the occasions when he talks on the phone to his mother.

Marilyn (Léerin Campbell)
and Toby (Michael Lowe).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Directed by Wayne Salomon, this 90-minute one-act can be enjoyed for the quirkiness of it all, because although it’s not his best, A Behanding still maintains a streak of that McDonagh edge. It’s running at the Gaslight Theatre until the 17th.


Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Wayne Salomon
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through December 17 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Carmichael: Jerry Vogel*
Mervyn: William Roth*
Marilyn: Léerin Campbell
Toby: Michael Lowe

Carmichael (Jerry Vogel).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige*
Scenic Designer: Patrick Huber
Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designer: Wayne Salomon*
Technical Director: Joseph Novak
Costume Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Props Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Light Board Operator: Amy J. Paige*
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Friday, November 10, 2017


Spilling out on the 4th floor ballroom of the Centene Center is a YoungLiars revamp of Shakespeare’s goriest play, Titus Andronicus. Adapted and directed by producing director Chuck Harper, the renamed Titus Androgynous: Un Comico Spettacolare, exploits the grisly retaliations between Titus, a Roman general, and his nemesis, Tamora, Queen of the Goths, with buckets of blood-soaked gusto. In addition to the onslaught of beheadings, rape and dismemberment, this condensed, swiftly paced splatter-fest features ingenious original compositions performed by Paul Cereghino -- highly entertaining numbers that acclimate the audience, and percussionist Michael Ferguson’s scoring that punctuates the break-neck action.

Mutius (Katy Keating) and Titus (Jonah Walker).
Photo credit: Valerie Goldston
Jonah Walker is a cool and steady, but increasingly mad Titus, back from war with a target on his back. Tamora, a deliciously evil Maggie Conroy, is bent on avenging the death of one of her sons, egged on by her lover, Aaron the Moore, played by a perfectly devious Erin Renée Roberts. Isaiah de Lorenzo displays a diabolical grimace as Saturnanus, the declared Emperor of Rome, who chooses to take Titus' daughter, Lavinia, to wed. Rachel Tibbetts receives the brunt of the carnage as Lavinia -- animated and hilarious, even after her tongue is cut out. Jeff Skoblow’s crazy speed-shuffling singles him out as Old Marcus, the father of Titus, and Mitch Eagles is Bassianus, the rival brother of Saturnanus.

You know something is about to go down when Katy Keating wheels out the “blood cart”, ready to gleefully squirt fake blood into the mouths of her cast-mates, in addition to playing a son of the Androgynous family and a son of Tamora’s. Ellie Schwetye and Amanda Wales also play two sons -- Martius and Quintas, the brave sons of Titus, and Chiron and Demetriass, the thug-ass sons of Tamora, who get an excellent R&B accompaniment courtesy of Ferguson’s drum skills.

Tamora (Maggie Conroy)
and Aaron the Moore (Erin Renée Roberts).
Photo credit: Valerie Goldston
The family distinctions of the multiple role-playing, white-faced, dark-eyed cast are kept clear with Conroy’s costume design of overcoats, corsets, sashes and feathery neck-bands. David Blake’s scenic design keeps it simple with white plastic sheets, and Roger Speidel and Jim Wulfsong provide the show’s necessary share of prosthetics.

This production’s ability to hop back and forth across the lines of violent tragedy and musical comedy makes it as fun as it is brutish, and has been extended until the 18th. Don’t miss it.

• I mentioned there’s a lot of blood, right?


Written by William Shakespeare, adapted by Chuck Harper
Percussion and Scoring by Michael Ferguson
Original Musical Compositions by Paul Cereghino
Directed by Chuck Harper
Centene Center For The Arts, 4th Floor Ballroom, 3547 Olive Street
through November 18 | tickets: $20
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm

Lavinia (Rachel Tibbetts)
and Titus (Jonah Walker).
Photo credit: Valerie Goldston
Ensemble Drammatico
Valentine, Mater of Ceremonies: Paul Cereghino

The Romans
Saturnanus, son of the late emperor of Rome: Isaiah de Lorenzo
Bassianus, brother and rival to Saturnanus: Mitch Eagles
Titus Androgynous, Roman general against the Goths: Jonah Walker
Luscious Androgynous, son of Titus: Mitch Eagles
Martius Androgynous, son of Titus: Ellie Schwetye
Quintas Androgynous, son of Titus: Amanda Wales
Mutius Androgynous, son of Titus: Katy Keating
Lavinia Androgynous, daughter of Titus: Rachel Tibbetts
Old Marcus Androgynous, father of Titus: Jeff Skoblow
Young Luscious, son of Luscious and grandson of Titus: Katy Keating
Aemelius, A Roman Lord: Michael Ferguson

Demetriass (Amanda Wales) and Chiron (Ellie Schwetye).
Photo credit: Valerie Goldston
The Goths
Tamora, Queen of the Goths: Maggie Conroy
Demetriass, son of Tamora: Amanda Wales
Chiron, son of Tamora: Ellie Schwetye
Alarbus, son of Tamora: Katy Keating
First Goth: Paul Cereghino
Second goth: Katy Keating

Aaron the Moore, lover of Tamora: Erin Renée Roberts
A Clown: Paul Cereghino

Ensemble Creativo
Costume Designer: Maggie Conroy
Best Man: Jef Awada
Couterier Extraordinaire: Marcy Wiegert and Lola Harper
Scenic Designer: David Blake
Lighting Designer: Ben Lewis
Stage Manager: Gabe Taylor
Assistant Director: Francesca Ferrari
Assistant Stage Manager: Gracie Sartin
Prosthetics: Roger Speidel and Jim Wulfsong

Sunday, October 1, 2017

LIZZIE • New Line Theatre

Just about everyone is familiar with the infamous story of Lizzie Borden, who went to trial for hacking her father and stepmother to death with a hatchet (or an axe, as the children’s rhyme goes). She was acquitted by a jury of 12 men in 1893, but the grisly details that came out during the trial transfixed the country, and after moving back to Fall River, Massachusetts, Borden was regarded with suspicion for the rest of her life. The story still captivates more than a century later, and New Line Theatre seems a fitting company to stage this defiant, mostly sung-through musical inspired by her, told in the language of unchecked rebellion -- straight-up rock.

The murders remain unsolved, but Lizzie collaborators Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt don’t attempt to dodge the question of Borden’s guilt -- that’s made pretty damn clear. But through a series of delectably catchy songs, delivered by a quartet of adept female leads, strong arguments are posed addressing Borden’s possible motivations, riffing off of historical accounts, long-held speculation and theories.

Lizzie (Anna Skidis Vargas).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Anna Skidis Vargas brandishes one of the strongest voices in town in the title role. Living under the same roof as her wealthy but stingy father and lowly regarded stepmother was no picnic. With a cold eye from the stepmother and abuse from her father, Lizzie faces menace at every turn. Skidis Vargas bends from powerless despair to seething anger in a blistering turn, assuming a disturbingly cool demeanor once her mind is made up. “This Is Not Love” and “Thirteen Days In Taunton” are among her most impressive.

An observer’s view is provided by Kimi Short as Bridget, the Borden’s Irish maid. A cagey Short sustains a thinly cloaked disdain for the Bordens, but so would you if they insisted on calling you “Maggie”, the name of their previous maid, because they’re too lazy to learn yours despite years of service. Bridget introduces us to the family in “The House of Borden”, and Lizzie and Bridget’s talk of household poisons, the haunting duet “Shattercane and Velvet Grass”, is a highlight.

Bridget (Kimi Short).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
A perfectly cast Larissa White is Alice, a neighbor and close friend of Lizzie’s. Her character’s feelings for Lizzie are unblushing, from heartfelt longing in a soaring “If You Knew”, to frustrated agitation in “Questions Questions”. White is an endless source of energy whenever she’s onstage.

Marcy Wiegert is Lizzie’s older sister, Emma. Her hatred for her stepmother is palpable (especially when she discovers that “Mrs. Borden” is trying to shut her and Lizzie out of her father’s will), and Wiegert’s performance bristles with attitude. Driving numbers like the protective “Sweet Little Sister” and the desperate “What the F**k Now, Lizzie?!” are tempered with beautifully harmonized duets, particularly “Burn the Old Thing Up” -- a calculated attempt to get rid of any incriminating evidence.

Director, Mike Dowdy-Windsor, strikes a balance between rock concert and musical, using handheld microphones but incorporating some nice staging into the mix, bringing out bold performances from the leads. Under Sarah Nelson’s musical direction, the versatile six-piece band sounded a little tentative during the more raucous numbers early on, but matched the high voltage goings on by the middle of the first act. Rob Lippert’s scenic design of angled platforms, steel joists and wooden planks are decorated with portraits of the Borden patriarch and stepmother, along with the Borden family crest, enhanced by his concert-style lighting design. Sarah Porter’s punk-rock costumes are superbly spot-on, differentiating each character perfectly.

Alice (Larissa White).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
No one will ever know precisely what went down in the House of Borden back in 1892, but this heady retelling will force any condemnation to the back seat. Basking in the glow of Lizzie’s liberation is much more gratifying. It’s playing until the 21st. Don’t walk, run to see it.

• Yes, the song list includes a searing little ditty called “Why Are All These Heads Off?” about an unfortunate incident with Lizzie’s beloved pigeons.

Music/lyrics: Steven Cheslik-deMeyer
Book/lyrics and additional music by Tim Maner
Music/additional lyrics by Alan Stevens Hewitt
Directed by Mike Dowdy-Windsor
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive
through October 21 | tickets: $15 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm
$20 for adults and $15 for students/seniors on Thursdays; and $25 for adults and $20 for students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays.

Emma (Marcy Wiegert).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Lizzie Borden: Anna Skidis Vargas
Bridget Sullivan: Kimi Short
Alice Russell: Larissa White
Emma Borden: Marcy Wiegert

Music Director: Sarah Nelson
Stage Manager: Erin Goodenough
Scenic & Lighting Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Ryan Day
Props Master: Alison Helmer
Scenic Artists: Richard Brown, Nick Brunstein and Kate Wilkerson
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Photographer: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Sarah Nelson
Lizzie (Anna Skidis Vargas), Bridget (Kimi Short)
and Emma (Marcy Wiegert).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Bass: Jake Heberlie
Cello: Emily Trista Lane
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Keyboard/Guitar: Jake Stergos

Lizzie (Anna Skidis Vargas), Bridget (Kimi Short),
Alice (Larissa White) and Emma (Marcy Wiegert).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg


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