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Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 3:24 pm | Fair 64º


Lizzie: American Crime Takes Center Stage

Rock musical meets Victorian repression in dark tale of 19th century Borden ax murders

Cast members featured in Lizzie at Center Stage Theater.
Cast members featured in Lizzie at Center Stage Theater. (Out of the Box Theatre Company)

Out of the Box Theatre Company, which brings contemporary musicals to Santa Barbara audiences, gets in the Halloween spirit with its upcoming production: Lizzie, by Steven Cheslik-Demeyer, Tim Maner and Alan Stevens Hewitt.

Lizzie runs Nov. 3 through 13 at Center Stage Theater in Paseo Nuevo.

Based on the infamous Borden ax murders of the late 19th century, Lizzie’s hard-rock sensibility reminds theatergoers that more than the customary show tune can be used to create theatric atmosphere and tell a story.

In Lizzie, a dark tale of true American crime, old Mr. and Mrs. Borden are hacked to death with an ax in their home. The killer remains unknown.

This rock musical features notes of brash, unapologetic riot grrrl punk that emboldens the repressed Victorian characters to break free of their societal shackles.

Punk rock is often tossed aside as an immature manifestation of anger at “the system.” But punk is about more than raging against the machine — it was born as a rejection of excess and privilege.

Anti-establishment in creed, punk rock was a physical demonstration of antagonism from marginalized subcultures that wanted their voices to be heard — as loudly as possible.

Understanding the impetus for this style of music (used as a storytelling device in this musical production) is paramount to truly recognizing the angst of the four characters involved in this murderous mess.

From a true-crime point of view, there are few accepted facts of the bloody tale.

In 1892, Fallbrook, Mass., undertaker Andrew Borden and his wife were violently bludgeoned to death in their home. The maid, Bridgette Sullivan, found the bodies while cleaning house, and alerted the police.

The two Borden sisters: the elder, Emma, had been away for the day, and younger sister, Lizzie, testified that she was in the Borden’s barn at the time of the murders.

These gruesome slayings shocked the local community, and the two remaining Bordens, especially Lizzie, became a source of gossip and fantastic rumor. Much of Lizzie’s bizarre testimony, one that weaves a story like a Mobius strip of connected half-truths, is used in the script.

While the Borden murders remain unsolved, this production of Lizzie, directed by Samantha Eve, takes the position that Lizzie (Katie Moya Watson), a desperate, destructive character with the potential for anger that overshadows empathy, is the killer.

Out of the Box’s production features Katie Moya Watson as Lizzie; Amy Palagi as terse older sister, Emma; Sydney Wesson as not-so-innocent neighbor Alice Russel; and Samantha Corbett as Bridget, the sassy Irish maid in the know.

The musical is based in fact and popular theory about the infamous murder mystery. Partnering the prim, Victorian values of a family in decay with the pulsing defiance of a punk rock soundtrack empowers Lizzie by accompanying her rage and fears with an appropriate musical landscape.

Despite the laced-up corsets and petticoats, Lizzie is a story of a bound woman who hacks her glass cage to shards, and barefoot, walks bleeding to freedom.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit outoftheboxtheatre.org or contact Center Stage Box Office, 963-0408

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