If the old stories are true, Countess Elizabeth Báthory was not a good neighbor. At her trial in 1611, servants estimated between 100 and 200 young girls had been imprisoned, tortured, and killed in the Countess’s castle, and one witness said she’d seen a book in which Báthory listed 650 victims—which would make her the most prolific serial killer in history.
But playwright Kelleen Conway Blanchard does her damnedest to show us the world through Báthory’s bloody eyes, starting with the play’s first few minutes when the Countess is just a little girl, helping her servant Dorkus squeeze a wounded robin to death.
“Give me the bird,” says Dorkus (Ashlen Hodge). “Your mother will not be pleased to find you cuddling vermin on her furniture.”
“I wasn’t cuddling; I was killing,” Báthory (Terri Weagant) responds. “I feel different, Dorkus. I made a little death.”
In some ways, you can hardly blame her for turning out so freakishly. Her mother is a shrill monster who parades around telling her daughter “you smell of disease” and that she was “tainted in the womb. I could feel her depravity inside me. Coiled like a snake. When she was in me I ate nothing but long sausage and dreamt of nudity… And when she slid out bloody, clutching her soiled woman’s parts, I knew.”
To her credit, Blanchard has written a gothic comedy that resists the temptation of camp. Instead, she lands startling punches with vivid and unexpected language: “You have a mouth like a bruise,” her Holy Crusader husband-to-be Ferenc (James Weidman) says as he woos her. “I will enjoy marriage.”
Blanchard is especially inspired when she’s writing about sex (“Do you not miss… the curve of my knife against your wound?” Ferenc asks his bride) and the bizarre foods at the Báthory household: goose-gland and dove-belly pudding, ostrich-claw jelly, boiled marmot paw. “A squinty woman is as useless as a headless rabbit,” Báthory says, reciting her mother’s argument against reading. “Because all the best bits for eating are in the head. And a headless rabbit would die before its head was properly fattened. And there would be no ear pudding.”
The two leads make grimly charming predators, bored by and superior to everything except morts, both petit and grand. Weidman brings a refreshingly abstracted, understated moodiness to a role that some actors would take as an excuse to chew up the scenery, while Weagant gives a positively sociopathic performance, fully unable to understand—and, in the end, not really caring—why other people don’t find chopping off people’s hands and branding the servant girls with hot coins diverting. (Unfortunately for this production, directed by Bret Fetzer, not all the performances are as impressive as theirs.) When Ferenc sends her a stooped creature with a withered arm named Fitzco (Erin Stewart, doing a Quasimodo impression), who performs magic tricks like conjuring bleeding rabbit heads and not-quite-dead birds, Weagant gets pulled further and further into her deep, blood-soaked urges. “The world is unsatisfying,” she sighs to one of her victims. “One longs for a peach and finds instead the pit.”
This production of Blood Countess is a little bit of both.