This is a play any Hamiltonian has got to love. It offers a rich portrait of one of the most notorious women in this city's history - no, not Evelyn Dick, whose story also happens to be told in another Fringe show this season, Suitcase: The Untold Story of Evelyn Dick (read the RTH review) - but Bessie Starkman, the lover and business partner of Prohibition-era rumrunner Rocco Perri, known as the Al Capone of Canada.
Written and starring the talented Victoria Murdoch (the show was the runner up this year in the Fringe's new play contest), The Bootlegger's Wife offers an intimate glimpse of the woman who worked alongside the famous gangster.
Murdoch sets the stage with simple but effective period props and appealing costumes that have her slipping in and out of the various roles Bessie played in her life: an apron for the bored housewife who takes a liking to Perri, her flirtatious boarder; an elegant negligee as his lover; a stunning peach satin dress and droopy pearl necklace as the increasingly bold opportunist who starts calling the shots in their illicit business; a short demure jacket and simple dress when she takes the stand in court to answer questions about Perri's nefarious activities.
Murdoch plays to voiceovers from Perri's character, allowing us to witness the evolution of her soft emotions as his smitten partner in love to the hardened veneer of his partner in crime.
Murdoch's lean and lanky figure cuts a compelling presence. While the real Bessie was as plain and stout as a glass of lager, Murdoch's version is a classy highball, much more refined than the real deal. Nevertheless, Murdoch brings a ring of authenticity to the role and is eminently watchable as the spotlight bathes her face in a nostalgic glow.
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Hamilton history knows things are not going to turn out well for Bessie. Still, the final sudden scenes are a shock. Murdoch's last moments on stage make for one of the most graceful theatrical exits I have ever seen.
More than 20,000 people lined the streets of Hamilton to catch a glimpse of Bessie's casket as it rode to its final resting place. Her demise was a sensation in this town. Murdoch's play is too. Don't miss it.
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