Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Margaret Lofty, Alice Burnham and Bessie Mundy. Three names you probably are not familiar with but, after seeing the intensely avant-garde drama “The Drowning Girls,” presented by Algonquin Theatre Projects in Whitinsville, you may not soon easily forget them.
Lofty (Lorna Noguiera), aka “Mrs. John Lloyd,” Burnham (Elizabeth A. Hylton), aka “Mrs. George Smith” and Mundy (Cherry Lynn Zinger), aka “Mrs. Henry Williams,” were all victims of a serial murderer in the United Kingdom in the early 20th century. The murderer was also the same man to which all three were married.
The set, seen in front of a white scrim on the floor, is simple: Three antique white claw-foot bathtubs, three end tables, three buckets and watering cans with water in them, three wooden coat racks with three antique style wedding dresses and veils.
In each of the three tubs is the “corpse” of a murdered bride.
As the play opens, the three actresses, playing the “bride corpses” of the three murdered wives, emerge from their tubs, hair still wet from just having been drowned, presumably existing in a surrealistic limbo, recounting the events leading up to each identical mode of murder, occurring only a few years apart.
Drowned in each tub, by a man none of the three were aware married them for their money, George Joseph Smith, aka “Henry Williams” and “John Lloyd” first conned each new bride, varying in age, into establishing a substantial insurance policy and will making him sole beneficiary.
Then, each victim would suffer the identical fate of what Smith arranged to look like an “accidental death” as each woman took a bath.
Under the direction of Marty BlackEagle, in addition to the victims, each actress also portrays multiple roles of friends, family members, servants, law enforcement, prosecutor and others as the details emerge for each murder in an intentional, very staccato yet detailed manner.
Interspersed with newspaper reports and court documents of each murder, it is the diverse performance of each actress which makes the audience bond with the victims and is the most compelling part of the show.
While the title is literal, referring to how each victim was murdered, it could also easily serve as a metaphor for how the role of women, especially during this period, was seemingly limited. The actresses make multiple references to “freedom,” “love,” and, in Lofty’s case, “last chance.”
Each of the three victims was made to feel themselves relegated to a life either defined by marriage or face an existence “drowning” in their own loneliness, forcing them into positions where they became easy prey for Smith. This concept was probably most eloquently stated by some of Hylton’s opening dialogue as Alice Burnham.
Creative stage lighting was used quite effectively, but tended to be a little obscured at times, and various sound effects used in the show were also a bit soft and difficult to hear as they were being implemented.
However, ultimately, it is the trio of Noguiera, Hylton and Zinger who work absolutely brilliantly and fluidly as an unbeatable ensemble.
The show runs one hour 10 minutes with no intermission.