Review | Hatchet Lady: doesn’t cut it

Walking Shadow Theatre Company, performing at the Red Eye Theatre, through Dec 16

Hatchet Lady image by Whittney Streeter

Carry Nation is an odd footnote of American history; a woman so impassioned to halt the scourge of alcohol in pre-prohibition times that she took it as a call from God to do physical damage to saloons and bars with her hatchet. That weapon came to be a national curio, and her crusade of destruction garnered widespread infamy and mockery.

What are we to make of Nation? Should she be considered a feminist icon because she dared raise her voice? Was she brave or was she simply an unhinged, deranged fundamentalist? Savannah Reich’s new musical Hatchet Lady (produced by Walking Shadow Theater Company and playing at Red Eye Theater through December 16th) seeks to explore these questions. But despite a loud supply of bluster, it lacks insight and flounders in finding a narrative thread.

The show is loosely structured around the efforts of Francis Glen, a moderately successful biography author, focused largely on female subjects, who tumbles into a drunken state of existential despair while chronicling Nation’s life. As she considers her own resume of acceptable mediocrity, admiration for the brash, unapologetic actions of her subject take hold.

Maren Ward provides a committed dual performance as Francis and Nation but is given little exposition and resultingly lacks dimension. Hatchet Lady too often ditches its thematic threads with digressions to seemingly random bits, and the cast as a whole seems to struggle with the material.

Although it is only 70 minutes in length, Reich finds time to include a monologue detailing the dangers of alcoholism, a duet sung to incongruous twangy chords, and a bit in which the actors awkwardly chant “Shots!” on stage and then take said (fake) shots–none of which lend to a narrative or thematic thread. Some scenes work to build a theme only to abruptly change direction while others meander for too long. And whatever momentum the show has is all too regularly halted by bits of clunky blocking or ill-timed transitions. On the whole, John Heimbach’s direction struggled to wrangle the messy material, rather feeling like grab-bag of contrasting styles and tones.

It’s a shame too, because there are ideas in the show that are interesting and worth exploring with greater depth. The lives of committed zealots, especially those who garner devotees, are both fascinating and appalling. Carry Nation is a prime example of how a public can both reward and shame such figures while failing to see them as fellow human beings, but the show only surfaces such tensions.

With all of that said, Hatchet Lady’s chaotic leanings do lend themselves well to Luc Parker’s punk-influenced score, and the show’s loudest moments feel fittingly unruly, providing its band with a handful of moments to elevate the experience with their evident talents.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that there has never been a better time to stage an angry, frustrated, feminist punk-rock musical. This one, unfortunately, doesn’t have the focus or clarity to cut it.

2 comments for “Review | Hatchet Lady: doesn’t cut it

  1. Carol Peterson
    December 11, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    It was meaningless. No story. No focus. I was happy that it was short. Unhappy that I saw it.

  2. December 8, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Zealots are always interesting. Someone should “do” John Brown. (Maybe they have)

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