Exploring the darker side of comedy beyond the traditional rules of improvisation, 40 Whacks is a musical that explores what has just otherwise become a mere murderous folklore, and caricature in pop culture. Rendering a gory hatchet murder by a New England spinster, Lizzie Borden, one would have hardly expected the entertaining humor that seems to naturally precipitate. As a figure shrouded in speculation, amid the laughs we are forced to ask whom this Lizzie Borden is beyond a character shrouded in both speculation and mystery. Thanks to Ellen StoneKing’s rich acting, we are able to finally flesh out a character that has confounded historians for more than a century. Was Lizzie Borden just an innocent small-town Sunday schoolteacher whom didn’t think Jesus would let children go to the bathroom during Sunday school class, or the bloodthirsty murderer of her own parents– or both?
Through the witty dialogue and hilarious lyrics written by Lisa McQueen as well as the cast, we are taken through the gory murder and infamous trial. By the end, you will be singing along to the gruesome children’s rhyme, “Lizzie Borden took an axe/And gave her mother forty whacks/ When she saw what she had done/ She gave her father forty-one.” But, then again, The Annoyance Theatre in Chicago, has always brilliantly principled itself on both the subversive, and the uncensored. As a student myself at The Annoyance, I have found from day one that the laughter is just as encouraging as the environment is to improvise in. So just when you think you are the only one laughing, take a look around because you will find yourself in great company.