Theater Artists Olympia is known for over-the-top productions, the kind that use fake blood, feature zombies and include gleeful songs about cannibalism.
Often, the most over-the-top of these productions takes place during the holidays. This year might seem like no exception. The company’s “Blood Relations,” which opens tonight, is about alleged ax murderer Lizzie Borden.
The surprise: “Relations” is not one of those bloody, gory holiday shows. Well, not as much as usual, anyway.
“It’s not terribly bloody,” said TAO artistic director Pug Bujeaud. “It’s more of a psychological thriller than what our Christmas fare has usually turned out to be.”
Director Tim Samland said, “I’m not a big fan of gore to sell a story. To me, that’s kind of letting the audience down. It becomes more about the gore than the actual story itself.”
The 1980 play, by feminist playwright Sharon Pollock, looks at the killings from a distance; it’s set 10 years later.
“The playwright really wanted to focus on the fact that she was acquitted, even though the rumors of the day were that she did it,” Samland said. “It’s written as a kind of game.”
Borden’s actress friend (and, it seems, lover) wants to know the truth. So the two go through it, with the actress role-playing Borden and Borden taking the role of her parents’ maid.
“They essentially interact with memories of the past,” Samland said. “All of the other characters are from Lizzie’s memory.”
The play does end with them acting out the double murder, yet the question of whether Borden did it remains unanswered, as it has since 1892.
“My goal is to have the audience end up even more intrigued by the Lizzie Borden trial,” Samland said. “I want them to have just as many questions about the whole incident when they leave as they did when they came — if not more.”
Asked for his personal opinion on Borden’s guilt, he said: “I don’t think I want to give that opinion. Certain things definitely point to Lizzie Borden, but she was found not guilty by a group of her peers.
“It’s for the audience to decide.”
The play is basically a thriller, Samland said. “There are definitely some scary spots; there are definitely some funny spots; there are definitely some serious spots; and there’s even a bit of love infatuation that gets played out.”
For those who are disappointed to hear that there’s not a lot of gore or camp, Bujeaud said those will be back with TAO’s next production in March.
“We’re revisiting ‘Cannibal’ later in the season,” she said. “There was no need to do two of those in a year. The stuff people pay a lot of attention to is the more kitschy stuff, but we do the more solid stuff, too.”