Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How I Became an Axe Murderess

Megan Moylan
Photo credit: Redline Designs
We'd like to welcome Jennifer Haaland to PHX Stages.  Jennifer will be writing preview stories and reviews, first up is her interview with A/C Theatre Company's LIZZIE star Megan Moylan.

by Jennifer Haaland


Megan Moylan of A/C Theatre Company is playing that famous real-life lady on whom the gory nursery rhyme is based. For the next three weekends, in a rock opera at Hardes Theatre in downtown Phoenix, Moylan is LIZZIE in a musical by the same name.

"I actually laughed when I got the phone call announcing I had been cast," Moylan recounted describing her startled glee. "I mean, I'm this happy go lucky actor who is always cast as the quirky girlfriend or the smiley, sweet nerd.  So now, it's amazing what LIZZIE is teaching me.  I'm a 23-year-old working to understand the psyche of a messed up 32-year-old," she chuckled.

LIZZIE refers to Elizabeth Borden who stood trial for a double murder in 1892.  The homocides had everyone--even school girls--chanting about the heiress who had been labeled a spinster and still lived in her miserly father's embarrassingly outdated home:

'Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother 40 whacks,
When she saw what she had done, gave her father 41.'

Heather Fallon, Lauren McKay, and Megan Moylan
Photo credit: Redline Designs
Based on the gruesome axe murders of her father and stepmother, Elizabeth Borden's guilty place in history is fixed, even though she was acquitted of the grisly Massachusetts crime.

"Our director, Tim Shawver, told us it's like learning a story by way of the rumors running through a community," said Moylan describing the ensemble show that features a four-person all female cast.

Note that happily surprised and ill-prepared are far different categories.  Moylan has been broadening her acting reach for 11 years, beginning in Los Angeles and honing herself further in the Phoenix Valley theatres for the last several seasons.  Playing Maureen from Rent recently with Lyric Opera Theatre on ASU's campus was a definite stepping stone toward a more serious side of her acting talents.

"I immediately went to every biography I could find.  And, boy, this is a huge exercise in empathy for me," she said. "These [Borden's family and close companions] were real people. And of course, I need to acknowledge that no one views themself as the bad guy."

According to Moylan, the musical team who wrote LIZZIE wrestled with and triumphed in communicating the tense message required of a darkly tangled story whose central character doesn't necessarily think she's caught in the knot. The tale is told through eerie beautiful ballads mixed with some pretty harsh  punkish rock.

"I can't begin to express the brilliance of the score. Not just lyrics, either. You hear the turmoil, angst and pride within her," gushed Moylan. "The music is a window to so  much connectivity on multiple levels of humanity. I mean, without any words at all the show itself projects the message, expresses it musically. The composers didn't shy away and just stick to something pleasant for the ear."

Megan Moylan and Cassie Chilton
Photo credit: Redline Designs
"Of all people to play the darkest person in history…" she trailed off.  " For my artistic purposes, it's important to see what might drive her to do something like this. We know Lizzie's older sister Emma, who actually raised her after her biological mom died, eventually moved away and didn't associate with Lizzie after the trial.  I need to incorporate a character with remarkable endurance and resilience beyond what Emma Borden seems to have had."

"We hear Lizzie's line 'My secret is safe now' repeated so often in the show...." said Moylan, adding to the complex layers she needs to communicate in her role.

"Realistically, I've not had the experience or faced the horrible kind of outside forces that Elizabeth Borden experienced," said Moylan.

Moylan will begin her first national tour with Childsplay in Rock the Presidents shortly after LIZZIE closes.  Soon enough, she'll be back to all positive energy with sprays of light-hearted fun.  But for now, she's prepared and practiced to become an axe murderess of incalculable dimension.

"I've learned so much about myself since that initial first laugh of the reaction. Exploring the deep part of me that is a part of everyone somewhere deep deep inside, is important," said Moylan in a deep philosophical mode. "If I was forced by circumstance into my darkest scariest self, what emotions are there? It's important for audiences and actors to recognize all the parts that every human has."

LIZZIE at A/C Theatre on the Phoenix Theatre campus runs  August 12-27
http://www.actheatrecompany.org/

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