“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done she gave her father 41!”
This morbid old schoolyard tune may be familiar to most, but the true legend of Lizzie Borden is largely unknown to many. The Oswego High School Drama Club aims to set the record straight with the award-winning original play “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe,” written and directed by Garrett Heater, music teacher at Fitzhugh Park Elementary in Oswego.
The play will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 and 16 in the Robinson-Faust Theatre for the Performing Arts at Oswego High School. Tickets are $10 at the door; reservations may be made by calling the box office at 341-2270.
“I feel the play comes closer to the truth than any play or movie that has come before it,” said Heater. “The text of the play is derived from court transcripts and inquest testimonies, which brings the audience extremely close to the actual events.”
The play recreates scenes leading up to and immediately after the 1892 double-murder of wealthy businessman Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby Durfee Gray Borden. Both were found mutilated in their home in Fall River, Mass., by hatchet or axe.
Andrew’s 32-year-old daughter Lizzie (step-daughter of Abby) was indicted and stood trial for the crime. She was acquitted of the gruesome homicides and the crime has remained unsolved for more than 120 years.
Following her acquittal, Lizzie Borden remained in Fall River. Her friends and neighbors, once staunch supporters of her innocence, quickly left her side after the trial and she became a social pariah.
“Once she received her father’s money, which was millions, she spent it on everything she felt she had been denied while living in the small house on Second Street,” said Heater. “People in Fall River found that suspicious.”
But Lizzie (played by Rachael Leotta) isn’t the only suspect in today’s world of armchair sleuths. Some feel that the Irish maid Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan (Sarah Lamb) had been pushed to the limit of servitude by her employers and killed them.
Others suspect Lizzie’s older sister Emma (Natalie Griffin), who may have planned the murders with their uncle John Morse (Mark Forger) in order to prevent a new will from being drawn up, giving most of the Borden fortune to their step-mother Abby (Gabriela Castiglia).
Dr. Seabury Bowen (Ryan Smith) is often viewed as being complicit in the murders, perhaps feeling sorry for possible abuse Lizzie suffered at the hands of her father Andrew (Stephen Mahan). Nosy neighbor Adelaide Churchill (Jordan Oatman) was on hand to comfort Lizzie after the murders were discovered, while Lizzie’s dear friend Alice Russell (Keelan McGreevey) eventually found herself testifying at the trial one year later.
“We may never know who committed the crime,” said Heater, “but our talented cast will present the event with exceptional skill and the audience must determine who had the motivation to wield the axe.”