by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
In the movie As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin, is asked: How do you write women so well? He dryly answers: Easy, I think of a man and take away reason and accountability. All of the characters in Sicks could apply to Melvin’s outlook.
Sicks promises a fun evening of noir monologues delivered by deluded, misguided, or plain crazy women from our collective past. But as you watch and listen to their infamous deeds, at first perhaps like Judge Judy, Freud, or an historian, things get a little muddled because the obvious thread that links these women together is not as evident as you’d suppose.
For example, if you took Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Mao, you’d have a clear picture of evil. But if you added, say Jeffrey Dahmer or The Son of Sam, you’d have a not so clear grouping. What happens in Sicks is that the Queens portrayed in their respective monologues, Mary I of England, and Catherine the Great of Russia don’t really inform us enough of their transgressions for their time in history–the periods too remote, the documents too vague, their histories controversial. We get a hint, that Catherine hated her husband, Peter III, and may have been involved in his assignation, and that she says she had a large sexual appetite for other stallions at Court. But her reign was long–from 1762 to 1796–and we only find out so much of her life, in a twenty minute monologue, before she is crowned Empress consort of All the Russias. Jael Golad does a great job of portraying Catherine, dignified, arch, and willful, but we don’t find out much about Catherine as really qualifying her as a true Sick.
Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon had a more controversial rap sheet. Trying to restore the Roman Catholic Church in England after her father’s break with Rome, had hundreds of non-believers put to the stake. Having married another Phillip, who later became King of Spain, she no doubt was influenced by Spanish methods for ridding society of heretics. Crawford Collins does her character justice by portraying Mary as neurotic, unstable, and prone to angry emotional outbursts. Mary’s reign was short from 1553 to 1558, and she could easily qualify as a Sick, but the time is too distant, the history too sweeping for us to understand the despots of the day. Being a despot was most likely a job qualification for those times. So the Queens weren’t a fun subject here, out of context, although costumed and delivered with ardent energy.
The fun gory stuff is more modern: Lizzie Borden played by Heather Nicolson opens the show, and tries to explain her circumstance of being tried for the whacking of her father and step-mother with an axe. Her father, a rags to riches cheap skate from New England in the late nineteenth century and her detested step-mother lead to her being the prime suspect. But as we find Lizzie was acquitted of all charges for lack of evidence; the handle to the murder weapon was never found, and forensics, what they were at the time, were botched. Lizzie inherited the family’s money, built a house on a hill, and become part of American folklore. She always maintained her innocence. Lizzie is almost a sympathetic character, perhaps a victim of temporary insanity; Nicolson, also shows the deviousness of her manner and implied knowingness.
The sick meter rises with Ma Barker, played with a droll comedic delivery by Maryanne Murray. A real, honest to goodness sociopath, without regard for her husband, who she feels lacks any sort of ambition. Bereft of maternal instincts, she leads her grown children through a mayhem of murders and robberies in the early 1900’s. For the record, all her children were criminals before she apparently got involved with their activities, but became, so it was said, the mastermind behind the Barker-Karpis gang. Their specialty: bank robberies, theft, murder, and as Ma tells us, kidnapping, the most lucrative. Ma is the only monologue delivered reflectively post mortem, as she looks back on her whole life of crime, up to the gun battle with the FBI. Ma goes to her demise casually and unrepentant. The humor injected by Ms Murray was well appreciated. Her costume was appropriate to her sickness, no color, just heavy layers of dreary, baggy black. The girl needed a splash of color in her life, but sadly sought it in the wrong places.
Bonnie Parker was the cute Texas girl that, along with Clyde Barrow, became the criminal celebrities of their era by robbing banks and becoming popular public enemies during The Great Depression. Kim Sweet plays Bonnie as a naif, that is madly in love with Clyde and his nefarious exploits, and would follow him to the ends of the earth. Ms Sweet plays her as the all-American girl who makes a bad choice. She is truly not sick, only smitten, and exercises a sort of a moral relativism about the Barrow Gang’s criminal activities. She compartmentalizes all the outlaw activity and is out for excitement more than vengeance. With hindsight, she appears attractive and redeemable, that is, until the Feds find them in Louisiana and rake them with firepower.
Aurora Heimbach plays Squeaky Fromme as the quintessential true believer. As a California gal from Santa Monica, jeans, denim shirt, and barefoot, Ms Heimbach portrays Squeaky as a sweet, mellow kid, easy going, Lolitaesque, that’s looking for a savior and finds him in Venice Beach–she looks into his eyes and sees the eyes of an angel. He latches onto her soul and takes her to the deep blue of her dreams. His name is Charles Manson and Squeaky becomes his life-long devotee. Heimbach’s smiling, docile demeanor eerily portrays Fromme as a quiet convert, like someone returning from India after seeing their guru. But we know it had to be a lot of bad acid too, no doubt, combined with a loveless childhood for her self-imposed deception to continue. Fromme, never charged with murder in the Manson family escapades, was however implicated at one point, but released. She was not present at the Tate-LaBianca murders, but was later arrested for pointing a gun at President Gerald Ford while he was in Sacramento. She said she was trying to make him aware of the plight of the redwoods. Fromme truly lacked reason and accountability, was jailed, and released in 2009.
The showcase is fun but could be made better by more stagecraft from the director. Having the six women silently on stage the whole evening becomes tedious, and makes the proceedings inert–like a wax museum. Their are no visual surprises. The audience eventually becomes numb trying to understand these ethically challenged women justify their antisocial deeds, one by one. Thematic back projection, perhaps, would break up this linear quality, as well as creative lighting, entrances, and interaction.
SICKS: An Evening With Six Of The Most Notorious Women In History
by Clay Edmonds
Cast: Lizzie Borden (Heather Nicolson); Catherine the Great (Jael Golad); Bonnie Parker (Kim Sweet); Ma Barker (Maryanne Murray); Queen Mary I (Crawford M. Collins); Squeaky Fromme (Aurora Heimbach.)