Reviews - Fringe 2014

Fringe Review: The Bootlegger's Wife

By Anne Bokma
Published July 23, 2014

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.

Anne Bokma is an award-winning journalist in Hamilton. She writes the "Spiritual But Secular" monthly column for the United Church Observer, reporting on the spiritual practices of the growing spiritual-but-not-religious demographic. Her blog, "My Year of Living Spiritually," is hosted on the Observer website.


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By Victoria Murdoch (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2014 at 14:15:35

Anne, thank you so much for this well crafted and thought provoking review. I am truly honoured to share this play with you and the Hamilton Arts community, and will treasure these words of support.

Thanks again,

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By ArtsAlly (registered) - website | Posted July 25, 2014 at 08:13:05

Anne, I completely agree with your lovely review. 'Eminently watchable' and not to be missed is right! While I've been friends with Victoria since her terrific run of 'Dairy-Free Love' two years ago, it isn't biased to say that Victoria is a consummate professional, and her shows are meticulously prepared. You will never be checking your watch during a Murdoch performance! Congratulations, Victoria, on this amazing piece of theatre. I've been telling everyone that it's a MUST. SEE.

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By Victoria Murdoch (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2014 at 11:03:52

Thanks so much to you both!! Cheers!

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