It’s one of the most famous murder mysteries in popular memory: the case of Lizzie Borden.
This October, nearly 130 years after the Borden murders, Lizzie’s coming to Bowen Island.
Next month, Theatre on the Isle is performing the Governor General’s Award-winning play Blood Relations by Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock.
In the first Theatre on the Isle play since 2017’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Calder Stewart makes his theatre directorial debut.
The Bowen-raised youth acting teacher is no stranger to the stage. Stewart started out acting at Tir-na-nOg as a six-year-old (shortly after he had moved to the island) and continued honing the art through his childhood until he moved off-island at about 20. At that point Stewart stopped doing plays in favour of a career teaching martial arts. A couple of years ago, Stewart returned to what he’d always wanted to do: acting.
While Stewart now lives on the mainland and works where he can in the industry, the (relatively) young director’s connection to Bowen is still strong and Stewart frequently acts in local plays (most recently, Much Ado About Nothing).
Stewart first read Blood Relations about a decade ago. Through the years, the play stuck with him. When contemplating directing his first play, Stewart knew what he wanted to show.
“It’s an incredibly well-written piece, there’s almost no wasted time,” says Stewart.
“It really speaks to me on the level of identity and the truth of these characters,” says Stewart. “It’s probably my favorite player I’ve ever read.”
The play is set a decade after the murders of Lizzie’s father and step-mother. Lizzie is visiting her friend, an actress, who is playing Lizzie in a play. The actress asks the real Lizzie if she “did it” (the real Lizzie was famously acquitted after a widely publicized trial, but popular opinion is that she killed her parents and got away with it). In response, Lizzie suggests the two act out what might have happened that summer a decade earlier.
“The author doesn’t try and make it a big mystery about like, ‘did she, didn’t she?’” Says Stewart. “Even though that’s a question that’s asked within the play, that’s not the point.”
Instead the play explores women’s societal positions of the time (one of the questions raised in the murder trial was ‘could a woman do this?’).
“It’s more about if we put you, the audience, into this situation, what would your opinions be? How would you feel about these things? Because it’s not okay the way that women were treated at that point,” says Stewart “Because what [Lizzie] wants and what she wants to be is definitely not a wife.”
“It’s all very human,” says Kat Stephens, who plays Lizzie’s actress friend. “We all pretty much know how it ends and yet this whole story, people are still going to be pulled in to see how and why.
“To see the raw, human traits that attract people to do what they do.”
“It was like the O.J. Simpson trial of the 1890s,” said actor Frazer Elliott. “This gives it a human side of the story.”
The play is a drama (not a comedy like many recent island productions) and though there isn’t explicit content, it isn’t directed toward children.
Blood Relations stars Kat Stephens, Morgan Darcy, Graham Ritchie, Ann-Marie Delawsky, Frazer Elliott, Sam Spear and Davin Killy.
It will run just under two hours at Tir-na-nOg and is scheduled so that people will be able to make the 9:30 p.m. ferry.
Show dates are Oct. 18, 19, 20, 25 and 26. The Friday and Saturday shows start at 7 p.m. and the Sunday show on Oct. 25 is a matinee. Tickets are available at Phoenix for $20.
“Hopefully [as] an October thing, too [audiences] will be a little bit in the mood for a little bit of a mystery and…the idea of gore,” says Stewart.