Mary Kate Morrissey

40 whacks and a bad attitude

Center Stage's Lizzie Borden musical chops a rock 'n' roll path into the American legend of family and violence

Turns out, it wasn’t 40 whacks.

Abby Durfree Gray Borden, Lizzie’s stepmother, took 19 blows to the back of her head on that fateful August day in 1892. Andrew Jackson Borden, Lizzie’s father, was dispatched with an efficient 11.

So much for legend.

As most schoolkids know, Lizzie, the most famous daughter or son of the mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts (sorry, George Stephanopoulos and Emeril Lagasse), was acquitted of the double ax murders. It took the jury just an hour and a half of deliberation to set her free, and no one else was ever charged.

Mary Kate Morrissey (left) as Lizzie, Kacie Sheik as Alice. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Mary Kate Morrissey (left) as Lizzie, Kacie Sheik as Alice. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Still, almost everyone thinks she dunnit. What most of us know about Lizzie Borden is neatly summed up in that famous, wryly understated doggerel, which neatly catapults her into the rarefied ranks of American folklore:

 Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother 40 whacks.

When she saw what she had done

She gave her father 41.

Lizzie, the new Broadway-hopeful musical at Portland Center Stage, bops along somewhere between folklore and fact. An unrepentant rock musical that mimics the overblown expressive style of arena rock, it revels in its own inventions (or at least, unprovable assertions): Lizzie’s dad repeatedly molested her; Lizzie and her neighbor, Alice Russell, were lovers.

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