One-woman show is a triple play for Ventnor actress

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Kathy Steel portrays the “murderess” Lizzy Borden at the Society Hill Playhouse.
VENTNOR – It takes a lot of character to put on a one-woman show and Kathy Steel used three.

The Ventnor resident will perform her fifth and final performance of “3 Women with Attitude” 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 at the Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia. The actress and author of “Sally the Sea Star” and “Harry the Hairy Hippo” said she returned to the Philadelphia Live Arts + Fringe Festival after a four-year hiatus.

Steel is acting manager of commercial properties on the Atlantic City boardwalk and a former substitute teacher.

The show debuted Sunday, Sept. 9 with performances on Sept. 12, 13 and 16. Written by and starring Steel, it features three 12-minute vignettes of a mogul, a madame and a murderess.

The mogul portion is about Coco Chanel, the French fashion designer known for creating her glamorous image and for staying in Paris during World War II.

Steel said interesting quotes and lesser-known facts about the people she portrays helped put the show in context.

“When she was 58 she had this German lover and said, ‘A woman of my age cannot be expected to look at a man’s passport when she takes a lover’,” said Steel on Monday, Sept. 18.

Steel said she has been working on the character of “murderess” Lizzie Borden since presenting a Halloween show at a Borders book store a few years ago.

Borden was a woman tried and acquitted in the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Fall River, Mass. American folklore has carried on the tale in the form of a 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.”

“It was the O.J. Simpson case of the 1880s,” Steel said. “A lot of people had suspected she had done it. But, she managed to get her father’s lawyers and they were able get her off.”

She said the “Madame” character runs a boarding house during the time of the Old West.

“One of the jokes is if it wasn’t for prostitution the men probably wouldn’t have bathed,” said Steel.

She said each of the characters has a fascinating aspect, a fun quality and a lot of attitude. “They have no real connection except I have enjoyed creating these characters,” said Steel.

The positive feedback has her considering bringing the performance to a local audience.

“I ain’t no spring chicken – I just had to do it,” said Steel. “I feel I have this really cool show – people really like it.”

Between each character, Steel has five minutes to change costumes and also change from a French accent to an Irish brogue.

“If you get to a point you know your lines so well, you allow the character to really take hold of you. The big trick is to know the lines so well you can allow the magic to happen.”

She also had some help with the show production including narrator Jason Brand, stage hand Hannah Hendry, and fellow Ventnor resident Ian Angotti – who in addition to playing a client for her madame character, helped with selling tickets, public relations and more behind the scenes.

“I couldn’t do it without him,” said Steel.

She said the beauty of theater allows each performance to be unique and allows for the actor and writer to improvise on the spot.

“I’m so glad I did it,” said Steel. “And – I would like to do again next summer.”

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