Blood Countess

Beauty and butchery in a play about a female serial killer

Seattle playwright Kelleen Conway Blanchard’s new play, Blood Countess, is based on Elizabeth Báthory, a 16th century serial killer who allegedly murdered hundreds of girls and bathed in their blood to stay young. Macabre? Sure. But Conway has a talent for making creepy into compelling.

The star of your play is one of history’s most prolific serial killers. Why choose her?
It’s a fascinating time period in terms of power issues and the role of women. Báthory was well-educated and celebrated for her beauty. She taught herself Latin, rode horses and was a good markswoman. How does someone like that get to the point that they one day start killing people?

She supposedly used blood as a beauty elixir, a medieval face cream. Is the play about women’s issues?
I didn’t think about it when I started writing a year ago. Reading it now? It’s pretty feminist. Her worth was mostly in how she looked. Her husband died and that’s when she took this sadistic turn. Maybe she felt that beauty was all the power she still had in society. Lose it and there is nothing left. Of course, there were obviously massive mental health issues, too.

She was nobility, a one-percenter for the 1500s.
When you’re so rich and isolated, it might become easier to start thinking of other people not as human. She killed servants for quite awhile. Then she started a school for noble, young ladies. They started disappearing and that’s when the families and government got concerned. You can’t kill noble girls!

Serious themes aside, can we count on some gore?
Someone’s throat might get ripped out. There’s a sword fight. Even though her character is serious, that’s not how we’re presenting it. We have some dreamlike, devilish things happening. There will be lots of dark, creepy humor and theatrical, visual craziness!

Why do you enjoy embracing the dark side in work like Blood Countess?
I want to know about the worm under the rock. What’s happening underneath the surface? Because it’s generally something really creepy. I’m fascinated by that. Also, the most terrible things are the ones we need to laugh at sometimes or your brain will explode.

Blood Countess
Annex Theatre
Oct. 24–
Nov. 22