Bag and Baggage Productions sure got the timing right for its production of The Drowning Girls. We arrived at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre opening night amid a deluge, only to hear the eerie recorded echoes of dripping water and see beautiful projected aquatic imagery against the back wall behind the stage.
Water, water everywhere; the three actors spend much of their stage time in Victorian bathtubs, their hair and bathing gowns drenched. The magnificently minimal set features a trio of three-story tall figurative shower curtains. In this third Bluebeard story of the season (following Shaking the Tree and the Oregon Symphony’s productions), water has replaced blood as a signifier of wife murder.
Those potent production elements, including the gripping acting and directing, make The Drowning Girls overcome a flawed though frequently fascinating script to produce a wonderfully immersive theatrical experience.
The timing is apt in another way. This show about the social sexism that contributed to the serial murders of three women opened just hours after a celebrity presidential candidate revealed his serial sexist violation of today’s women.
Of course, Bag & Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer couldn’t have known what was going to happen at the end of the 2016 presidential campaign months ago when B&B chose this play for its fall production. But while the scale of the two violations a century apart differs, the underlying social attitudes that contributed to them remain, as Palmer put it, “sickeningly relevant.” Like The Shining or Silence of the Lambs (though less gruesome than either), it’s that rare Halloween/Day of the Dead show that really makes you think and sympathize instead of just scaring you.