Apparently thrill-killing isn't a new sign of the gradual breakdown of society. John Logan's historical thriller "Never the Sinner" explores the trial of wealthy, local killers Leopold and Loeb in what was once hailed as the crime of the century. Director Gary Griffin brings this story to life in an exciting new production at Victory Gardens Theater.
Logan's wordy script has the potential to be really dull, even with the gory details. That's not the case with this quick-moving production. Set against a minimal set draped in peacock damask, Griffin's staging makes the telling active. Each twist and turn in the tabloid drama is accented by slick reporters. The cheeky headlines pose the question whether there's profit in crime? And if so, who benefits from a court room sideshow? Certainly not the victim. It also serves to underscore that in America, we're all just rubber-neckers happy that a crime didn't happen to us.
A play like "Never the Sinner" is really only as strong as its Leopold and Loeb and luckily they’ve got two great actors. Japhet Balaban plays the part of introverted Nathan Leopold and he's unnervingly creepy. His attention to diction is a wise character choice. While Loeb technically carried out the crimes, Balaban's Leopold has the Norman Bates-type aloofness that most serial killers tend to possess. Jordan Brodess' Loeb balances the rage and panache which likely serves Logan's point that some people will sink to deplorable depths for fame in America.
The true surprise of this story is their country lawyer Darrow played Keith Kupferer. Kupferer is known for his "every man" roles, and this show will prove a high point for him. Of course the knee-jerk reaction to brutal murder committed by two remorseless college boys makes us demand the ultimate penalty: death. Logan uses this real-life instance to debate the ethics of the death penalty. In high profile cases up to this point in history, rarely was the philosophy of capital punishment ever questioned. Even in our times it’s a hard question without an easy answer. Ultimately Logan uses this shlockey murder trial to ask the audience, is killing in the name of justice, just?
Through December 6th at Victory Gardens Theater - 2433 N Lincoln Ave.
Everyone is looking to be loved and to give love though it’s not always that easy as we find out in Stupid Fucking Bird. In this twisted and very comical take on Anton Chehkov’s The Seagull that is filled with bird references relating to life, Stupid Fucking Bird is the story of dysfunctional friends and family who are defined by their own complexities, self-absorption and yearnings. Also relating theatre to life, Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird uses stage performance as insightful metaphors to human behavior.
Sideshow Theatre Company’s production of Posner’s adaptation of Chehkov’s boring and often hard to watch stage classic is nothing short of hilarious at times and funny all the way through despite a heavier ending than expected. Assembled in this witty play is a dynamite cast led by Nate Whelden who plays “Cody Proctor”, a tortured playwright who is in love with his subject “Nina” (Jeff nominated Nina O’Keefe) whom will never love him in return. Cody Proctor is incensed with commercial theatre that is not “world changing” and is determined to write provocative and meaningful art that has an effect on society. In the meantime, emptiness, loneliness and lack of purpose are ever present in those close to him and “Nina” wants to be a seagull – thus the title, Stupid Fucking Bird.
The story is filled with dark humor and clever parodies of the original it spoofs. There are moments where the actors interact with the crowd, whether to ask for advice on a specific situation or to simply vent to us. The set is modest but effective to which its simplicity actually adds to the show’s theme of hollowness and the constant longing to be complete.
Stupid Fucking Bird is not only funny it is also heartwarming and can be thought provoking on occasion. It is a journey that most are all too familiar with and it is a struggle that can often be overcome. There is a good reason this play was a hit on the East Coast, that being it’s engagingness and cast of characters that are easy to identify with.
Stupid Fucking Bird is playing in the upstairs theatre of Victory Gardens (2433 N. Lincoln) through September 21st. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.victorygardens.org or call (773) 871-3000.
*Above photo - (left to right) Matt Fletcher, Katy Carolina Collins, Nina O’Keefe, Nate Whelden, Cody Proctor, Stacy Stoltz and Norm Woodel in Sideshow Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of STUPID FUCKING BIRD by Aaron Posner, sort of adapted from Anton Chekhov’sThe Seagull, directed by Jonathan L. Green. Photo by Jonathan L. Green.
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