"Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother
When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one."
"That's not true," Lizzie (Karen Asconi) tells us with a slyly conspiratorial smile. "It wasn't an ax, it was a hatchet. Abby Borden wasn't my mother, she was my stepmother. I only gave her 20 whacks. And I only gave my father 10."
Marjorie Conn's one-woman Miss Lizzie A. Borden Invites You To Tea is full of fun, nasty little anecdotes like this. Taking the somewhat precious form of a tea party Borden is giving for nonexistent guests on the 21st anniversary of the grisly murders, Conn occasionally plays fast and loose with the facts (as they are known) and she tends to make rather obvious behavioral connections that smack of pop psychology. Nevertheless the show is an intriguing tour de force for an actress of "a certain age," and Asconi certainly had a field day as she swooped around the stage like Norma Desmond's slightly loonier grandmother, ranting about the injustices of her strict upbringing. But Asconi, under the assured direction of Frank Avellino, never overplayed her hand, and her performance was a marvel of delicately layered emotion. "And then I was free" she gloats exultantly, fooling no one, not even herself. While Borden was acquitted for her rebellious act of freedom from the wretchedly stifling environment of her parents' home, she was never able to free herself from the psychological damage wrought by an overbearing father and indifferent, greedy stepmother. Ultimately she only traded one prison for another, trapped for decades in a world of bitter, gauzy memories.
Avellino's elegant drawing-room set, all solid period furniture and shimmering white scrim wall hangings, Peter Colleto's painterly lighting, and Bunny Mateosian's gorgeous lavender tea dress all made the show physically beautiful, until late in the show the back wall transformed into a grisly representation of Andrew Borden's bloody carcass on the sofa. It was a jolting, intrusive moment, but one that made its point with an odd delicacy that Conn's script didn't quite match.
Winner of an OOBR Award last year for Avellino's Ice In April, Boz and the Bard Productions is a company to watch, not always the case with suburban groups that make the leap into Manhattan. Sometimes the love of theatre is all these groups have, but B&B have the intelligence and talent to support their ambitions, if Miss Lizzie... and Ice In April are any indication. Welcome. What's next?
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita