Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lizzie Borden

Photo: Carl Skutsch

Can murdering one's parents with an axe be a woman's path to empowerment? In the excellent rock musical Lizzie Borden, it certainly can. Lizzie, abused, in danger of being disinherited, and lacking options, finally decides that freedom lies in ridding herself of her incestuous father and her horrid stepmother. After an attempt at poisoning them fails, she grabs an ax and, well, takes matters into her own hands. Lizzie Borden (with book, lyrics, music, concept, direction, and musical direction by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt) beautifully combines a kick-ass score, strong lyrics, surprising humor, sweet sexiness, cheerful anachronisms, and an eerie atmosphere. The multitalented designers Caleb Levengood (scenery), Christian DeAngelis (lighting), Jamie McElhinney (sound), Bobby Frederick Tilley (costume), Carrie Lynn Rohm (hair and makeup), and Zoƫ Woodworth (video) manage to evoke a vivid, attractive, and affectingly creepy time and place in a small space on what must have been a small budget. And the four actress-singers--Marie-France Arcilla, Lisa Birnbaum, Carrie Cimma, and Jenny Fellner--are heartbreaking, satirical, funny, sexy, real, and larger-than-life, sometimes all at the same time. And can they rock! Special notice must be paid to the superb Jenny Fellner as Lizzie. Fellner's transition from repressed to explosive is calibrated perfectly, and she performs with her heart, body, and soul--and with great intelligence. (A few small quibbles: the lyrics were occasionally difficult to hear; both acts end with whimpers rather than bangs; playing unrelated rock music during intermission hurt the mood.) At The Living Theatre at 21 Clinton Street in the Lower East Side.

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