Hatchet Lady: Carry Nation, Angel of Destruction – the must-see musical

Crazy or chosen? That is the question that I’m left with after seeing Hatchet Lady, performed by Walking Shadow Theatre Company. Are larger-than-life zealots driven because they are crazy or chosen (by God)? And who gets to decide? A timely question for so many reasons!

Historically, Carry Nation was a passionate member of the temperance movement, known for destroying taverns with her hatchet. Hatchet Lady is inspired by her story and her modern-day, fictional biographer (Frances) who bemoans her own lack of passion or courage, striving only for “what will make people like her.” Frances presents as a third option to the “crazy or chosen” option – damned by mere adequacy.

And the story is a musical!

That idea of “crazy, chosen or adequate” gets to the root of some of the feminist themes in the play. Girls have traditionally been taught to aim for adequate over chosen or risk being labeled crazy. The title character sings a song comparing herself to John Brown, American abolitionist who believed in violence. They are similar in some ways; different in others. Both were religious and both were violent. One fought against slavery and the other against alcohol. Or is it that one was a woman and one was a man? If the story were about Joan of Arc, the important difference would be clear. The fact that we’re comparing Brown to Nation leaves room for deeper consideration.

The action of the play is driven by vignettes narrated by a community radio talk show format (think SNL skit) and punctuated with musical numbers from punk to country. Admittedly the flow could grow tiresome if the writing and acting weren’t as good as they are. As it stands, it’s a good way to convey info (I might not have passed a test on Carry Nation) and start conversation on themes of isms and historical perspective.

The acting is suburb. Keeping with the SNL references, Maren Ward as Carry Nation and her biographer brings the physical humor of Melissa McCarthy. Megan Burns nails the community radio personality. Maureen O’Malley as the intern sent to work with the seasoned biographer is a good wide-eyed balance. Chelsie Newhard rounds out the cast playing several roles, including Mr. Carry Nation. The writing (Savannah Reich) is clever and thoughtful. It’s the kind of writing that makes you happy to have an MA in literature and sad that you can’t discuss the work in great depth in class the next day. So many levels.

The music (by Luc Parker) stops the action in important places and allows for total turnaround in plot. It sets the tone. The band includes Britt Collis on guitar, Katelyn Farstad on drums, Pamela Laizure on violin and Shannon Boyer on bass. Dressed as angels with wings and halos, the musicians are part of the performance. The music in integral but not overbearing.

Remaining performances:

  • Thursday, Dec 14, 7:30pm
  • Friday, Dec 15, 7:30 – post-show discussion
  • Friday, Dec 15, 10:00pm
  • Saturday, Dec 16, 7:30pm – CLOSING

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