Belle Parricide

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Editorial Review

Fringe Festival: ‘Belle Parricide’ offers five views of Beatrice Cenci

By Stephanie Merry
Thursday, July 21, 2011

As long as systems of justice have existed, there has been fascination with criminal trials, it seems. Well before Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson, there was Beatrice Cenci. The 16th-century Italian noblewoman was accused, along with her stepmother and brother, of murdering her father, a man who may have had it coming; he is rumored to have been an abusive, sadistic rapist. On Sept. 11, 1599, despite public outcry, the three were executed for the crime.

The story has been covered many times before, by the likes of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Alexandre Dumas, but for the Capital Fringe Festival, Georgetown Theatre Company is offering what it purports to be a fresh perspective: a woman’s. For “Belle Parracide,” Artistic Director Catherine Aselford commissioned five female playwrights to provide their takes on the tale. The result, which ranges from narrative to lyrical, is consistently intriguing, if slightly uneven in terms of emotional impact.

The first playlet, Lori Fischer’s “Thoughts of Rome,” is a perfect primer for those who need a lesson on the details of the story, because it offers a straightforward account of Beatrice’s life in exile and her plot to do away with her father. Monique LaForce’s “The Blizzard Comes” has a more modern setting, although the deft script unfolds in iambic pentameter. Here Beatrice is portrayed as a conniving minx in fishnets and a bustier (with a still, admittedly, despicable father). The inventive “Belle Phantasm” by Alia Faith Williams is a ghost story, following the recently deceased woman as she exacts revenge on the executioners, and Lucy Tyler’s “The Operators” looks at a young girl searching for help and coming up empty. Finally, Rebecca Nesvet’s “The Cenci Portrait” offers insight into the continued allure of Beatrice through the artists who have depicted her.

The standout of the evening was undoubtedly Madeline Ruskin, who portrayed Beatrice in all the incarnations, moving effortlessly from victim to vixen and apparition to adolescent. And while the show doesn’t necessarily deliver an obvious feminine touch, it doesn’t matter. Four centuries on, the story is as enthralling as ever.