CAT actors perform a suspenseful scene from Blood Relations, which opens at the Nickle Studio Friday, May 10. (Contributed photo).

CAT tackles the murky Lizzie Borden story when ‘Blood Relations’ opens at Red Deer theatre

Did she or didn’t she? Find out more about the historic who-dunnit at Nickle Studio

The real-life Gothic horror story of Lizzie Borden — who might, or might not have axe murdered her parents — is being brought to stage by Central Alberta Theatre.

Blood Relations, which opens Friday, May 10, at the Nickle Studio, upstairs at the Memorial Centre, is everything local theatre-goers are not expecting of a stage production, says director Piper Rempel.

“It’s not about having polite conversations, like we think theatre should be in Red Deer …”

Instead, Rempel describes this play by Calgary playwright Sharon Pollock as “disjointed, in a horror-story-like way, and definitely suspenseful … we have a lot of axes on stage …”

The faint of heart needn’t worry, though. Rempel believes this show is more about creating “high calibre excitement” and sparking discussions about women’s roles than being an outright gore-fest.

“The kind of people who cover their eyes at horror movies will still enjoy it” — stage blood and all, she promises.

This is the first Central Alberta Theatre production for the Red Deer native, who has a education/drama degree from the University of Alberta and now lives in Edmonton.

Rempel says she was drawn to Pollack’s feminist script, which won a Governor General’s Award in 1981.

Its dream-like sequences combine factual aspects of the Borden murder investigation and trial from 1892, with some modern and historic speculation.

After the jury in the case — a Victorian version of the O.J. Simpson trial, in terms of rabid public interest and media scrutiny — decided not to convict Lizzie of murdering her father and stepmother, she was still found guilty in the court of public opinion.

And speculation dogged her for the rest of her life — including whispers about her sexuality.

Lizzie, who never married and continued to live with her sister, Emma, was rumoured to be romantically involved with the actress Nance O’Neill.

Pollock uses this purported lesbian relationship to try to flesh out what happened in the well-to-do Borden household in Fall Rivers, Mass., on the morning her parents were killed.

Perhaps, more importantly, she attempts to answer questions around motive.

Blood Relations is actually a play within a play, says Rempel. When Lizzie, played by Tara Rorke, is pestered to reveal what really happened, she invites Nance (Heather Lawrence) to help re-enact various scenarios, with Nance playing Lizzie and Lizzie depicting her former housekeeper, Bridget, who discovered her stepmother’s body.

Rempel believes Pollock adds to the salacious Borden history some thoughtful consideration around the repressive expectations of 19th-century women.

The director credits her cast of seven for being “all in” for bringing this murky tale to life.

Blood Relations runs May 10-12, 24-26 and May 31 and June 1. Tickets (ages 14-plus recommended) are from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.

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