A murder, an execution, a conspiracy and a history of rumored abuse stand at the center of Belle Parricide. Based on the historical tale of a young Italian noblewoman named Beatrice Cenci who was executed for the murder of her father in 1599, the work shows how one event can capture people’s imagination for centuries.
Many different theories of Beatrice Cencis live on in history and art. There is no consensus about why she killed her father, Count Francesco Cenci. Was she brutally abused by her father as her defense claimed? Was she acting in self-defense? Was she a murderous villain? A seductress having an affair with a married man?
The Georgetown Theatre Company’s Belle Parricide explores different angles of Beatrice’s tragic story. It does not claim to have an answer but asks the audience to think for themselves.
Artistic Director, and the play’s co-director, Catherine Aselford commissioned female playwrights to write their own interpretations of Beatrice Cenci. Five plays within a play, Belle Parricide depicts Beatrice (Madeline Ruskin) as a conspirator, a modern Mafia daughter, a ghost, an abused adolescent seeking help from telephone operators and an artist’s muse.
History buffs will love this unique concept. There are not enough facts about the circumstances surrounding the murder for right or wrong answers. Some might be confused by the shifts between plays or the questions raised but everyone will come away with a new idea.
The first, Thoughts of Rome by Lori Fischer, is particularly good. As it begins Beatrice and her stepmother are hiding away from the abusive Francesco in a remote Italian castle. The two women reminisce, debate, argue, complain, dread and eventually conspire. You can imagine that it is exactly what the women would have done in their situation. I was so interested that I was sorry to see it end.
Belle Phantasm by Alia Faith Williams features Beatrice’s ghost observing reactions to her death. It was an intriguing take on the story and how Beatrice affected those around her.
The Cenci Portrait centers on the 17th century portrait (presumed to be) of Beatrice and the artists who are inspired by her story. The Operators shows a 14-year-old abused Beatrice desperately looking for help from phone operators. The Blizzard Comes is a “Sopranos”-like comic story featuring Beatrice as a daughter seeking revenge against her evil Mafia father. It shows Beatrice as a victim of serious sexual abuse and a determined conspirator.
Ruskin gave an exceptional performance as Beatrice. She seamlessly moved between the different characters of Beatrice—the conspirator, the victim, the murderess and the ghost. Her acting seemed effortless.
The play’s set is sparse but the script alone evokes vivid imagery of Beatrice’s world in the audiences’ heads. Five cubes and a rack of costumes are the only props the play needs.
Anyone who sees Belle Parricide will walk away wanting to know more about Beatrice Cenci. The work makes a strong impression that will not be easily forgotten.
There are 4 more chances to see Belle Parricide at Fort Fringe-Redrum, 610 L Street NW, Washington DC. The play has strong sexual themes and is not recommended for children.