THE DROWNING GIRLS at OnStage Playhouse is a compelling look at the true story of the “Brides in the Bath Murders.” In this one act play three ghostly brides tell their tales and reflect on how love and marriage don’t always equal a happily ever after…especially if you marry a serial killer. THE DROWNING GIRLS is dramatic, funny, wistful, and an indictment of a society that offers little to no opportunity for women to lead their own lives and is playing through September 26th.
Three young brides Bessie Munday (Carla Navarro), Alice Burnham (Emily Candia), and Margaret Lloyd (Sandra Ruiz) all made the mistake of being female, unmarried, and since it’s the early 1900’s, unable to do anything for themselves until they get married. It’s no wonder that they each were swept off their feet by a tall, handsome man of “independent means”, who promises to love and cherish them for as long as they live – if only they knew how short that was. While he used different names for each, he is referred to the most in the play as George Joseph Smith.
The play starts with a slightly disorienting flurry of activity, as brides rise drenched from the watery depths of their tubs. Each is telling their own story before they come in sync and details start to emerge in the timeline. While he may have wooed them, and killed them using a different name and an ever-escalating timeline, the similarities in his techniques start to appear. In fact, these similarities are what make this case an actual historic one as one of the first cases to establish, and convict someone from finding the similarity in the cause of death and connecting evidence to prove it was the same person.
His brides all had similarities as well – they are all grown women in their 20’s or older (and yet still referred to as “girls”) who were not married, and found some shame and loneliness as the spinsters in their respective families. As one points out, they dreamt of marriage because they would finally become a “useful member of society” once they were married.
Powerless over their own lives until married, the pliant, naive, and sweet ladylike ideal made them the perfect marks. Smith’s love and attention and offer of marriage were tempting in that it meant they could now navigate more of society as a “Mrs.” than they ever could as a “Miss”.
Smith always took over their finances explaining that after all they “have no pockets.” (Yet another reason women are always asking for more pockets in their clothes)
Smith had already made it a habit to marry women and take over all of their money and valuables, and then skip town. But he soon escalated to murder as a solution that offered less potential for an awkward reunion.
Navarro’s Bessie Munday is more shy and dreamy, and a bit more pliant, which may be why she was wed for 6 weeks before she took a fatal bath. Candia’s Alice is smart but stubborn, having decided to seize the future with him; which only lasted for 2 weeks. Ruiz’s Margaret is aching for something more, but also quickly questions the speed at which everything is happening; maybe that kind of awareness is why she only had a single night as a bride before she died.
Directed by James Darvas the show is full of darkly humorous moments, like making a macabre lockstep of the wedding march, the three gathered around a tub harkening back to the witches of MACBETH seeking vengeance, or the gossipy landladies of the homes where the drownings occurred discussing the cases with each other. .
Scenic Design by Hsi-An Chen has three claw-footed bathtubs on a set appropriately drowning in bridal tulle and materials. Lighting by Kevin “Blax” Burroughs plays with color to create spooky, murky, watery, and menacing as each scene requires. Maeann Ross designed the sound which rounds out the production and allows you to hear the women even under running water.
THE DROWNING GIRLS is a fun fantasia of fact and fairytale. Except in this fairytale when Prince Charming says “I Do” he is revealed as the monster of the tale.
THE DROWNING GIRLS is playing through September 26th at OnStage Playhouse. For ticket and showtime information go to www.onstageplayhouse.com
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