Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Bury the Hatchet
Southwest Shakespeare Company / Out of Forest Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Plaza Suite, I Never Sang for My Father, Godspell and Mr. Burns, a post-electric play


Sasha Wilson
Photo by Reg Madison Photography
You only have to look at the endless number of recent highly rated TV shows, such as "American Crime Story," "Law & Order: True Crime" and "Dateline NBC," to demonstrate our ongoing fascination with true crimes. One of the most famous of these, immortalized in the infamous nursery rhyme, is the tale of Lizzie Borden, who was accused of killing her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1892. Sasha Wilson has crafted an intriguing, quirky and engaging one act play with music which debuted last year in London under her Out of the Forest Theatre company and which won the People's Choice award earlier this year at the Vault Festival. The show makes its American debut for a two-week run in a co-production with Southwest Shakespeare Company.

It makes sense that Wilson created this show, as she grew up in Massachusetts and says the story of Lizzie Borden was always on her periphery. Wilson and a talented trio of actor musicians, including Sam Jenkins-Shaw, Drew Leatham and Mario Yniguez, portray multiple characters as they lay out the facts and details of the crime scene to help us weigh the motives in an attempt to determine Borden's guilt or innocence. With snippets of transcripts from the actual case, and plenty of humor and the inclusion of numerous folk songs from the time period, it's a fun and appealing, though brief, show, running only an hour.

The show includes a handful of modern day references and interaction with the audience, with the cast narrating and commenting on the facts of the case, including clearing up the detail that the murder weapon was a hatchet and not an axe, and that neither victim actually suffered forty or forty-one "whacks" as the nursery rhyme states. The playful structure with the insertion of these details makes it both fascinating and entertaining. The show plays out on a bare stage with just a few prop pieces which are used well throughout, including a facsimile of the infamous murder weapon.

Wilson packs a lot into the hour-long show and, while it is very fun and fast paced, some of the information is so quickly delivered that a few bits of dialogue and a couple of jokes get lost or jumbled up with other details. There is also a rushed feeling to the entire piece that adds to the upbeat, spontaneous feeling but also makes it seem slightly unfocused at times. The show begins with the cast trying to figure out the best place to start telling the story and that confusion and the jumping around of the plot, along with the insertion of modern comments, adds to the unscripted, though unfocused, feeling. Also, some of the songs, which are all great, are only heard in snippets. This is a show where expanding it a bit, to around 80 minutes or so, and giving a somewhat better focus to the arc of the story, seems a worthwhile idea. There is a lot of detail, and a slightly longer running time would give the show a few moments for it, and the audience, to catch its breath as well as for more of the songs to be heard.

The actors are excellent in creating multiple characters while also playing an assortment of musical instruments including guitar, banjo and melodica. Sam Jenkins-Shaw appeared with Wilson in the debut production last year and the two have a playful connection to each other and the material. Local Phoenix musicians and actors Drew Leatham and Mario Yniguez are both used quite well throughout, with each also providing excellent musical contributions.

Bury the Hatchet is a fun, fast and witty history lesson into the facts about the infamous story of Lizzie Borden. While I had a few issues with the length and the structure, this is a great idea for a way to keep Lizzie's story alive with the inclusion of murder folk ballads a wonderful touch. The American debut of the show has a fantastic cast and I look forward to seeing what Wilson does next with her creation and what the future holds for this show.

Bury the Hatchet, through May 6th, 2018, at Taliesin West, 12345 N Taliesin Drive, Scottsdale AZ. Tickets can be purchased at swshakespeare.org or by calling 480-644-6500

Written by Sasha Wilson

Cast: Sasha Wilson, Sam Jenkins-Shaw, Drew Leatham and Mario Yniguez


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