Yucho Chow re-discovered

“Author and curator, Catherine Clement (left) has won B.C.’s top award for historical writing for her book about an early Vancouver photographer whose work was almost forgotten.” FULL STORY

BLOOD RELATIONS by Sharon Pollack

July 04th, 2013

BLOOD RELATIONS by Sharon Pollack
Frederic Wood Theatre, rx UBC Theatre Department
March 21-April 6

I did not love Lucy

Blood Relations is a museum piece that never detours from its woman-as-victim path to consider that anyone who kills two people with an axe just might be crazy, or even a little bit crazy. The alleged murderer Lizzie is a heroine, decease a Joan of Arc in a New England drawing room. Unfortunately, at UBC, Lizzie has been directed to act like a distraught, sour and contemptful Emily Dickinson-like bleater throughout, so any nuances of any possible character development are squashed. Her greatest virtue is her determination not to be cowed. Lacking chemistry or electricity on stage, we never sense there could be a lesbian relationship between spinster Lizzie and her actor friend Nance O’Neil, a rebellious alliance arguably crucial to Pollock’s ‘reveal’ in which she posits that both women ‘did it’—the crime, not the horizontal bop—on a psychological level.

Yes, Lizzie’s industrialist father should haven’t have cut the heads off of those pigeons. And, yes, it’s seems unpardonable to our modern sensibilities that her father would have opted to bequeath the family estate to a male step-relation rather than to Lizzie and her much meeker sister. The depiction of Lizzie’s father in this production, unfortunately, is so weak that any sense of a mounting power struggle is lost. The father and step-mother shuffle through their under-written parts like cardboard cutouts. Meanwhile, above the stage, we are treated to splurts of gushing red into the sky. This is Chekhov with a sledgehammer.

Seldom recognized as a B.C. play first produced under a different title at Douglas College in 1976, Sharon Pollock’s feminist treatise is Canadian Gothic, transferred from Massachusetts where Lizzie Borden was acquitted of murdering her step-mother and father with an axe in the early 1890s. There ought to be some sense of mystery, or rising curiosity, as to whether or not she committed these crimes or not, but Pollock basically decides Lizzie did it and it’s really all the fault of oppressive male chauvinism. Pollock was breaking new ground in 1980; resulting in a Governor-General’s Award for Drama in 1981. Nowadays the axe and the sledgehammer don’t work quite so well. The axe is dull, not cutting.

No doubt there have been thousands of bad productions of Chekhov around the globe that have sent audiences away shaking their heads; so it’s tempting to suggest Pollock has been mangled by a well-intentioned student production. But I have struggled to find something, anything, endearing or engaging about either the play or the production—and failed. I did not see a woman struggling to resolve the burden of guilt. Nor was I impressed by “mirror talk.” Like the story that gave rise to the documentary Searching for Sugarman, Blood Relations is just too good a story not to be told, but the telling is opportunistic. The agenda of the storyteller seeps through—more unsettling than a blood-soaked sky.

We did not feel the characters.

— Paul Durras

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