Tuesday, June 09, 2015

"Never the Sinner" - a tepid history play in a hot theater (bring a fan)

The cast of Never the Sinner (Shannon Miller)

Never the Sinner
LungFish Productions
At TPS4
Through June 20, 2015

The trial of Leopold and Loeb, in Chicago in 1924, was referred to as the Trial of the Century, at that time. The famed lawyer, Clarence Darrow was their defense attorney. So, Chicago was breathless at that time to hear every tiny detail from the trial. It had scandal, murder, and rich people!

Nathan Leopold, Jr. (with an anomalous name – Jews were expressly forbidden the habit of naming “juniors”), age 19, and Richard Loeb, age 18, were wealthy young men. Loeb was the charismatic, mercurial one, who was bored with life and obsessed with crime – one might say he would have been diagnosed in later years as a sociopath.

Leopold was the constrained and clearly homosexual of the two, an obsessively intelligent young man with a voracious appetite for detail. He knew at least some of 15 languages and was already, at his young age, a noted ornithologist!

Leopold also became somewhat obsessed with crime, though it appeared more abstract than Loeb’s. He wrote about the idea, at that time, of a √úbermensch – a superman, thought to be far superior to other humans. The two began to relate themselves to the superbeing idea and, beginning with smaller crimes and then bigger ones, began to plot the perfect murder.

Much of what was written and said about the two was that Loeb manipulated Leopold into the crime wave by doling out sexual favors to Leopold, who was in love with Loeb. Initially uneasy with committing the perfect murder, Leopold was convinced that they could pull it off because they were so fucking smart.

They chose Robert (Bobby) Franks, Loeb’s 14 year-old second cousin. Despite meticulous planning, they bungled several aspects of the crime immediately. Police were able to conclude that they did it within weeks of the murder, especially easily from finding Leopold’s glasses near the partially destroyed body.

Clarence Darrow surprised everyone at the trial by beginning it with a change in plea: to guilty! By doing so, they avoided a jury trial and went straight into a sentencing phase. Darrow famously pleaded for life in prison, partly by arguing what are now familiar tropes against the government death penalty, and emphasizing the “boys” age. No one in Illinois under 21 had ever pleaded guilty and then been punished by death. He succeeded in gaining the judge’s sentence of life.

All of this is contained in John Logan’s play, Never the Sinner, presented by LungFish Productions. It’s a history play, which makes it great for history buffs and perhaps not as compelling for others. Alan E. Garcia, a newcomer to Seattle stages, does an outstanding job of portraying the charismatic Loeb. He is the best part of the production.

While Joshua Valencia works hard at Leopold, and portrays well a lot of the meticulousness of the man, he doesn’t display the passion Leopold had for Loeb or the anxiety or longing that Loeb exploited in him to keep Leopold hanging on and wanting more.

The rest of the cast does a nice job of being a lot of different people, though some of their portrayals are over-the-top and uneven. However, Robin Hallsmith has a great moment as the prosecutor, equating the death of these 18-19 year olds with the dead of World War I, and advocating that a death sentence for Leopold and Loeb is entirely appropriate. Jessica Askew, as a psychologist, has a nice moment dropping the bomb that they were in a homosexual relationship.

Warning: TPS4 is unair-conditioned. LungFish likes the aspect of the production being in the heat, because the trial took place at the height of Chicago summer, in a sweltering July. So, this atmospheric addition makes the audience feel more like they are “there.”

For more information, go to www.lungfishproductions.net or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1252591 or call 800-838-3006.