“Outrageous” is probably not the best word to describe Lizzie Borden and Eleanora Duse, at least as they are presented in these two one-woman plays. Alice Roosevelt Longsworth, who described herself as “Washington’s Topless Octogenarian” after her double mastectomy and famously said “if you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me,” was an outrageous dame. Lizzie Borden was an ax murderer, and Duse was a sick woman with a boatload of grievances.
Notwithstanding, Borden’s story is an interesting one, and Duse’s story, which is not, is well-delivered. Writers/actors Majorie Conn and Christine Emmert thus present a pleasant, if somewhat overlong, evening of theater.
In Miss Lizzie A. Borden Invites You For Tea, Lizzie confesses to – or perhaps celebrates – her famous crime in short order. She does not disagree with the main thrust of the nursery rhyme composed in her honor, although she vigorously disputes some of the details. Conn fills in the story with fascinating thoroughness – some through research (warning: this show is not for the squeamish) and some, like Lizzie’s rumored romance with the actress Nance O’Neil, through well-supported speculation.
Conn’s script is engaging and suspenseful, although we hear too much about extraneous matters. (It is no surprise that Lizzie’s father, like most of 1892 America, was a bigot). Her presentation, however, still needs work. While Conn captures Lizzie’s demented persona with great subtlety and specificity, she is hesitant and stumbles over some very important lines. (Afterward, she told the audience that she had not done the piece in several years.)
Emmert’s mediation on Eleanora Duse, Dying in Pittsburgh, suffers from precisely the opposite problem. Emmert is obviously a fine, fine actor. But her script goes nowhere. Duse, an Italian actor who performed at roughly the time of Sarah Bernhardt, was wonderfully talented but her life was not particularly remarkable. She worked, had love affairs, got married, had children, went back to work. Her daughter had no interest in the stage. And so on. Duse was sick much of her life, and Emmert, portraying her at sixty-five (days before her death,) gives full and authentic reign to it, but, ultimately, so what? Many people become sick and, I understand, even die. Duse is given to self-dramatization, which means, of course, that Emmert can show less range than she might otherwise, and we are once again reminded that being an actor does not automatically entitle one to an interesting life.
In lieu of tea, we are given a very drinkable wine at the beginning of the show, and handed a nice souvenir pen afterward. In part because such a lengthy show is difficult to watch late on a weekday night there were only two people in attendance, one of which was me. These performers were nonetheless every inch classy professionals throughout their presentation.
- Running time: 105 minutes
- Tickets: Outrageous Dames
- Remaining Shows: Fri, July 25 at 6:30 . Sat, July 26 at 2 . Sun, July 27 at 5
- Where: Warehouse, 1017 7th Street, NW