PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story

Two teenage millionaires murder for sex, superiority, and plain fun.

Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story by John Logan
Mauckingbird Theatre Company
Directed by Peter Reynolds
Starring Brian Kurtas, Evan Jonigkeit, Robb Hutter, Jessica Bedford, Matthew Lorenz, Dan Kern, Eric Kramer

10 Words or Less … Two teenage millionaires murder for sex, superiority, and plain fun.

Strengths … This play recounts the real-life and deeply sinister story of two young rich kids from Chicago who set out to commit the perfect murder. The play itself is episodic, moving energetically from scene to scene with cinematic speed. Peter Reynolds’ directorial proficiency reaches new levels of excellence in this fast-paced exploration of the darkest side of sexual attraction and inhumanity. The staging is intricate and synergetic, building a dramatic tension that keeps the audience wondering “What will happen next?” This production also marks a sophisticated shift in design aesthetic for Mauckingbird: Marie Anne Chiment’s set is a piece of art, and adds both functionality and intrigue to this tale of deception and innuendo. However, it is the sound design by Matthew Lorenz that best creates the time period in which the play is set, 1920s Chicago, and the necessary atmosphere of tension that surrounds this disturbing story of arrogance and sordid criminal motivation.

Weaknesses … The play gets very wordy toward the end, dragging the high-paced theatricality of the evening to a grinding halt in the last moments of the production. The prosecution and the defense both give extended closing arguments. Despite energetic and meticulous performances by Eric Kramer and Dan Kern, this was not the way to end the play. While the rest of the production was exciting, and I was frankly sitting on the edge of my seat nervous about whether Leopold and Loeb would get the death penalty or life in prison, these monologues didn’t fit with the rest of the play. Kramer’s portrayal of Robert Crowe, the States Attorney, was really a most notable moment of acting merit, but despite his tremendous talent it was not enough to rescue me from the tedium of the playwright’s wordiness.

Verdict … I have never been disappointed by a Mauckingbird production. Their production values grow stronger and stronger, and their work has a level of significance rarely seen in the theatre. Because of their dedication to exploring issues of diversity, their productions are always important. You will walk away from this production debating its story, and affected by the production team’s style and interpretation. The show has tremendous acting and its ensemble quality is lively. If you are attracted to the genre of programs that explore crime and punishment, this is a much more productive way to spend an evening than watching another Law & Order rerun. If you have not yet seen a play by this theater company, I feel compelled to ask: What are you waiting for?

Through August 30th on the main stage the Adrienne Theater. Tickets $15 to $20.