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The play opens on a late Sunday evening in the parlor of the Borden house in 1902, in Fall River, Massachusetts. Miss Lizzie enters with tea for the Actress, who dissents she doesn't care for the tea and toast routine while Lizzie considers the correct approach to pour tea. Lizzie stresses that Fall River is a bit of exhausting for the Actress. She says she is there to see Lizzie. She gives a report about how her practices are going. She reports hearing youngsters in the rear way singing a little tune about Lizzie executing her folks. Lizzie inquires as to whether she shielded her. The Actress reports she shut the window. They put on a record and move as the Actress tries to make sense of if Miss Lizzie looks jowly, a remark made in news reports amid the trial. The Actress gripes that Lizzie never reveals to her anything, when Lizzie neglects to react to the topic of whether she carried out the wrongdoing or not.
Lizzie ponders so anyone might hear whether some portion of the Actress' prosperity is because of her association with a scandalous denounced murderess, for example, herself. The Actress swarms at this, however Lizzie says that, ten years after the occasions, individuals still discuss her and the wrongdoing. Lizzie whines that Emma continues asking, "did you?" The Actress begins to emulate Emma, carrying on both sides of a nonexistent discussion with Lizzie's more seasoned sister. The Actress says she needs to know reality. Lizzie proposes they play a diversion in which the Actress will play Miss Lizzie and Lizzie will play Bridget, the servant the family had in 1892.
The activity movements to Lizzie's murder trial that occurred ten years prior. The Defense questions Lizzie as Bridget, and she depicts the Borden family, including the visit of Harry, Mrs. Borden's sibling. This memory breaks down to another flashback to the Borden home. Harry has arrived, and plainly the motivation behind his visit is cash, either for himself or his sister, who is Mr. Borden's second spouse. Lizzie had Harry tossed out the last time he went to. He ponders what Bridget is doing with bread coverings. She says they are for Lizzie's pigeons, and Harry says Lizzie favors creatures to individuals. The Actress, now playing Lizzie, shows up and Harry slips off to part wood.
After Bridget reports a discussion between Mr. Borden and his brother by marriage, Lizzie calls Harry an idiotic bugger, bothering Bridget with her foul dialect. Lizzie voices her worry that Harry is just going by to plot more cash out of her dad. Emma shows up, whining of the clamor that has kept her from rest. Emma demonstrates she's heard Lizzie's awful dialect. Emma wouldn't like to manage the truth of the family cultivate, which is in monetary demolish, or Harry's plans to get a greater amount of their dad's cash. Lizzie tries to make her discussion about it.
Mrs. Borden, the young ladies' stepmother, descends for breakfast and inquiries Bridget about Harry's appearance and whether Lizzie knows he's here. She arrives at the conclusion that Lizzie is truly very ruined. There is clear strain between Mrs. Borden and Lizzie rotating around Mr. Borden's cash. Mr. Borden shows up and they talk about Lizzie and a widower, Johnny MacLeod, who is occupied with her. Her dad weights Emma to converse with Lizzie. She goes off seeming a bit piqued, unwilling to be the family go between and communicator.
The scene movements to Dr. Patrick and Lizzie talking outside, where she plays with him, welcoming him to keep running off with her, in spite of the fact that he is hitched. Harry goes by and advises Lizzie to come in for lunch, despite the fact that they have quite recently completed breakfast.
The scene movements and Bridget and Lizzie discuss the desire that Lizzie ought to get hitched and have her very own home. In the mean time Harry reports to Mrs. Borden that Lizzie has been associating with the specialist. Mrs. Borden and Harry join forces against Mr. Borden, saying he can't control his own girl. Mr. Borden says he'll converse with her.
The scene comes back to the court, and Lizzie reviews how she never was very sufficient as a young lady, assuming that she never got during childbirth that enchantment recipe for being a lady. The Defense returns and inquiries whether Lizzie could have conveyed the hatchet blows that executed her folks.
The scene changes to a discussion amongst Borden and Lizzie as he tries to influence her to see the widower MacLeod. "He's searching for a servant not a spouse," Lizzie fights. Mrs. Borden participate and they discuss Lizzie going out and the endowment she'll get in the event that she weds. Mr. Borden slaps Lizzie. Her stepmother advises her that she is monetarily reliant on her dad and that she can't would like to acquire 33% of his bequest when he kicks the bucket.
Harry and Mr. Borden talk, uncovering Harry's business. He needs the decrepit homestead put in Mrs. Borden's name and rented to him. Harry will direct stallion barters and have surrey rides on the property, giving Borden 20%. What they are uninformed of is Lizzie's nearness, and she goes up against her dad. Borden's outrage ejects and he guides it at the pigeons Lizzie keeps. Taking the ax Harry has gotten from part wood, Borden crushes it into the table. Hatchet close by, Borden says he will deal with the fowls. The demonstration closes back in the present with Lizzie saying she cherished the pigeons.
The activity comes back to Lizzie and the Actress' re-establishment. It is the next day. Emma reveals to Lizzie she is leaving for a couple days. Lizzie blames Emma for fleeing from things. Lizzie underscores the truth—Harry is getting the ranch marked over to their stepmother and will live there. They will be basically removed of their dad's will, left to subsist on just a little recompense.
The scene comes back to the court. The Defense returns and inquiries Lizzie about what occurred on that day, and she went for a walk, eating pears, returning, discovering her Papa dead, and calling for Bridget.
The scene moves back to that day. Mrs. Borden descends for breakfast and soon Mr. Borden joins the table. Harry flies in and gets a welcome to get down to business with Borden. Lizzie, knowing they plan to sign papers around the local area, tries to induce her dad not to go.
The scenes blurs to another discussion between Dr. Patrick and Lizzie. Lizzie says she could kick the bucket in the event that she needed. They walk, and she will demonstrate to him her winged animals yet the confine is vacant She asks him whom he would spare on the off chance that he could just spare one of two individuals passing on from a mischance. At that point she inquires as to whether he met Attila the Hun and could slaughter him, OK? He says he would battle in a war however is awkward with this line of addressing. She dispatches into an assault on her stepmother yet she doesn't get the bolster she needs and blames Patrick for being a defeatist.
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Psychological murder/mystery drama by Sharon Pollock , first produced at Douglas College, New Westminster, British Columbia (under the title My Name is Lisbeth and featuring the author in the title role). The play premiered professionally at Theatre 3, Edmonton Alberta, March 12 1980, directed by Keith Digby, with set by J. Fraser Hiltz, costumes by Kathryn Burns and lighting by Luciano Iogna, featuring Janet Daverne as Miss Lizzie, Judith Mabey as the Actress, Barbara Reese as Emma, Wendell Smith as Dr. Patrick/Defense, Brian Atkins as Harry, Paddy English as Mrs. Borden and Charles Kerr as Mr. Borden. It subsequently played at theatres across Canada, including the Centaur and the Shaw Festival in 2003, and in the United States, Australia and Japan. It won the Governor General's Award in 1981.
The program for 2003 Shaw Festival production included the following essay on Blood Relations by Anne Nothof --
Lizzie Bordens Trial by Theatre
Popular culture is obsessed with murder most foul the brutal killings of politicians and prostitutes, of wives and schoolgirls. The trials of the accused are performed as theatrical spectacles on television and in the press. Events and characters are probed for causes and reasons. Murder theories multiply as public opinion shifts, and individual acts are placed in broader social and political contexts. The trial of the infamous Lizzie Borden, accused of the murder of her father and stepmother in 1892, is a case in point. Her story has become folklore, a skipping song for children (with an exaggerated number of whacks), and a case study for a history course at the University of Massachusetts. It has been retold and reinterpreted in dozens of versions, including a made-for-TV movie, an opera, a ballet, an A&E biography, a comic book account, and in a variety of websites embellished with family portraits and floor plans of the Borden house -- now a Bed and Breakfast, with a museum and a gift shop which offers a CD of the trial transcript, long and short-sleeved T-shirts, and axe key chains.
Theories of culpability have multiplied over the past century, as the facts transcribed at the trial are reinterpreted. Different accounts point to the family maid, Bridget, to Lizzies older sister, Emma, to the family physician, Dr. Bowen, to her uncle who was visiting for the day, and to Lizzies Chinese Sunday School student. The most plausible, however, point to Lizzie, including a thorough account by Edmund Pearson which reproduces the court transcript, entitled The Trial Book of Lizzie Borden (1937), and comprehensive investigation by Edwin H. Porter, the police reporter for the Fall River Daily Globe, entitled The Fall River Tragedy (1893). On the advice of her lawyer, the day that Porters book was published, Lizzie bought most of the copies and burned them.
Sharon Pollocks play, Blood Relations, which premiered in Edmonton at Theatre Three in 1980, is another conjectural account, a trial by theatre, in which the audience participates as judge and jury -- and as accomplice. Pollock uses the facts of the case as a foundation on which to build a strong case for collective guilt and responsibility. As Denis Salter points out in a biocritical essay on her plays, the desire to commit murder is a product of socio-economic and psychological factors over which a single individual might have very little control ([Im]possible Worlds: The Plays of Sharon Pollock). And as Sharon Pollock has commented, Im saying that all of us are capable of murder given the right situation (The Work: Conversations with English-Canadian Playwrights).
Lizzie Borden was born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1860, the youngest daughter of a wealthy but parsimonious businessman. Her mother died when she was two of uterine congestion, and her father remarried three years later. Although their relationship seemed harmonious, friction between Lizzie and Abbie, her stepmother, developed over her fathers considerable assets. She believed that Abbie would inherit most of the estate, and that her opportunity for financial independence would be lost. American women in the 1980s and 90s inhabited a limited space, and were becoming increasingly restless over the restrictions and expectations. As Mr. Borden points out to Lizzie in Blood Relations the natural thing for a woman of her age was to be married, have children, be running her own house. The role of women was that of mistress of the home and dispenser of hospitality as exemplified by Lizzies tea etiquette in the opening scene of Blood Relations. But as a spinster daughter in her fathers home, with no marriage prospects, Lizzies role was circumscribed by her fathers authority, even though, like other relatively affluent women, she traveled in Europe with lady friends, and engaged in charity work.
By 1898 women in most States could own or control property, but inequalities of civil status remained. They were still confined in tight corsets and impeded by long trailing skirts, flounces and bustles. Although improvements in domestic conveniences liberated middle-class women from household drudgery, allowing more time for a wider participation in society, the traditional prejudice against self-support remained entrenched. The aspiration of many young women was the freedom to develop their own personalities through education, work, or club activities, which became training schools for humanitarian, political, and social leaders, including suffragettes and feminists. As Kate Wells pointed out in an 1880 issue of Atlantic Monthly, What is this curious product of today, the American girl or woman? Is it possible for any novel, within the next fifty years, truly to depict her as a finality, when she is still emerging from new conditions,... when she does not yet understand herself?... The face of today is stamped with restlessness, wandering purpose, and self-consciousness. Yet, according to historian Arthur Schlesinger, she was responding to her highest instincts in struggling toward an easier, more self-respecting and self-reliant footing in American society (The American Woman [1870-1900]). In Blood Relations, Miss Lizzie attempts to find for herself a freer existence, but which she can only imagine through dreams or through role-playing. The Actress, on the other hand, flaunts her freedom to indulge in late-night parties, to smoke cigarettes, and to have a liaison with Lizzie Borden.
The real Lizzie Borden acted out her frustration by fabricating break-ins into the home and barn behind the house, and her father responded by decapitating her pet pigeons, and by placing locks on almost every door in the house. On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie reported to Bridget Sullivan, the Irish maid, her discovery of the bloody body of her father sprawled on the sofa in the sitting room, and instructed her to fetch the family physician, Dr. Bowen. When the doctor and the police arrived, they also found the body of Abby Borden upstairs, her head similarly crushed by multiple axe blows. Bridget Sullivan testified that she had been in her own attic room, resting from cleaning windows on a very hot day. She had neither heard nor seen anything unusual. Lizzie claimed that she had been in the barn, although the undisturbed dust on the barn floor seemed to indicate otherwise. Emma was out of town visiting friends. Four axes were discovered in the basement, one without a handle, and the head covered in ashes. No evidence of blood was found on Lizzies clothes, although her friend, Miss Russell, did discover her burning a dress three days later, which she claimed had been stained with paint. At the inquest, it was also revealed that Lizzie had bought prussic acid from a local pharmacy the day before, and that Abby and Andrew Borden had been ill that morning. Lizzie was arrested for murder and the trial date set for June 5, 1893. The trial lasted fourteen days, and caused a national sensation: it was the first public trial in the United States to be covered extensively by the media. Popular opinion was split on the innocence or guilt of Lizzie Borden, with strong support coming from feminists and animal rights advocates.
Lizzie and Emma hired the best lawyers, paid from their fathers estate. The legal rhetoric of the lawyer for the Defense as recorded in the trial transcripts is passionate, persuasive, and very playworthy:
To find her guilty you must believe she is a fiend. Does she look it? As she sat here these long weary days and moved in and out before you, have you seen anything that shows the lack of human feeling and womanly bearing? Do I plead for her sister? No. Do I plead for Lizzie Andrew Borden herself? Yes, I ask you to consider her, to put her into the scale as a woman among us all, to say as you have her in charge to the Commonwealth whom you represent: It is not just to hold her a minute longer, and pleading for her I plead for you and myself and all of us that the verdict you shall register in this most important case shall not only commend your approval now, unqualified and beyond reasonable doubt, but shall stand sanctioned and commended by the people everywhere in the world who are listening by the telegraphic wire to know what is the outcome as to her. She is not without sympathy in this world.
This impassioned tone is also evident in the statement for the Defense in Blood Relations, reflecting a male bias against the possibility of women committing such atrocities:
Gentlemen of the Jury!! I ask you to look at the defendant, Miss Lizzie Borden. I ask you to recall the nature of the crime of which she is accused. I ask you do you believe Miss Lizzie Borden, the youngest daughter of a scion of our community, a recipient of the fullest amenities our society can bestow upon its most fortunate members, do you believe Miss Lizzie Borden capable of wielding the murder weapon thirty-two blows, gentlemen, thirty-two blows fracturing Abigail Bordens skull, leaving her bloody and broken body in an upstairs bedroom, then, Miss Borden, with no hint of frenzy, hysteria, or trace of blood upon her person, engages in casual conversation with the maid, Bridget OSullivan, while awaiting her fathers return home, upon which, after sending Bridget to her attic room, Miss Borden deals thirteen more blows to the head of her father, and minutes later in a state utterly compatible with that of a loving daughter upon discovery of murder most foul Miss Borden calls for aid! Is this the aid we give her? Accusation of the most heinous and infamous of crimes? Do you believe Miss Lizzie Borden capable of these acts? I can tell you I do not!! I can tell you these acts of violence are acts of madness!! Gentlemen! If this gentlewoman is capable of such an act I say to you look to your daughters.
Lizzies social position, physical appearance, and public performance all mitigated against a guilty verdict. Although her testimony at the inquest was contradictory and confused, at her trial she was calm, impassive, and inscrutable. She did not testify at the trial, and her only words she spoke were, I am innocent. I leave it to my counsel to speak for me. The transcript records only the words of others. And in Blood Relations, Miss Lizzie also evades direct testimony. Her part is enacted by her friend, an actress from Boston, and she assumes the role of the maid Bridget, an observer and director of the replay of the events that culminated in the murder of the Bordens. This framework establishes the possibility of multiple perspectives. What happened ten years earlier depends on what is remembered, what is re-enacted. The past is played out as theatre, as is the trial. We are the witnesses, and we try to ascertain the truth which proves endlessly elusive and multi-faceted. As in many of her other plays, Sharon Pollock is intrigued by questions of choice and responsibility the reasons for our actions, whether they be motivated by personal considerations or public pressures, or a combination of both.
Lizzie Borden was acquitted her lawyers having persuaded the jury that the evidence was circumstantial. She continued to live in Fall River in a fashionable Victorian mansion located on The Hill with her sister. In effect, however, she continued a life of social circumscription, even more limited than before the murders, since she was ostracized by the community. She did travel regularly, however, maintaining a relationship with a young Boston actress named Nance ONeil, which provoked yet more rumours, and resulted in Emma finding her own place to live. She died in 1927 and was buried in the Borden family plot. She left her estate to animal care organizations.
In Blood Relations Sharon Pollock extracts the salient details of the case and constructs an imaginative who-dunnit. But she is more interested in the why than the who. Although she has written many plays since, including Whiskey Six Cadenza (1983), Doc (1984), Getting it Straight (1989), Fair Libertys Call (1993), Saucy Jack (1993), Moving Pictures (1999), End Dream (2000), and Angels Trumpet (2001), Blood Relations remains her most popular play. It has traveled to Japan, Australia, and England, and (no mystery here) to many theatres in the United States. It has inspired almost as many theoretical academic interpretations as has the axe murder as postmodern metatheatre which comments on the unstable nature of representation and identity, as a feminist tract, as a psychodrama played in the head of the Actress, as an instrument of moral inquiry. Its conflation of acting with self-disclosure, of confession with subterfuge, of compulsion with repression, is endlessly intriguing. Pollocks plays resist easy categorization and explanation. They provoke and challenge. Finally, they direct their questions at the audience. Who is responsible for these crimes against humanity? Perhaps no one is innocent.
Sharon Pollock. Blood Relations and Other Plays. Ed. Anne Nothof. Edmonton: NeWest Press, 2002.
Sharon Pollock: Essays on Her Works, ed. Anne F. Nothof. Toronto: Guernica, 2000.
Sharon Pollock Collected Works, Vols 1, 2, and 3. Ed. Cynthia Zimmerman. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press. 2005-2007.
Sherrill Grace. Making Theatre: A Life of Sharon Pollock. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2008.
Last updated 2011-12-13
Shaw Festival production of Blood Relations 2003. Laurie Paton as the Actress/Lizzie and Jane Perry as Miss Lizzie/Bridget.