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Serial and Mass
Murder: Theory, Research, & Policy
StageDirect is a new venture that is recording live performances
(primarily fringe theater) on digital video. Mass
Murder, StageDirects second national release, captures a live performance of
Jeff Meyers' play at the Northwest Actors Studio in Seattle, Washington. As seems
inevitable with any live stage-to-video viewing experience, the stagy quality of Mass Murder requires a significant adjustment. Once
there, viewers (preferably sitting within six inches of the television screen) are
transported to the moral universe of de Sades Charenton insane asylum (as in Peter
Weiss' Marat/Sade) or the Dicksensian London of Sweeney
Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.
But Mass Murder deals with contemporary cases, those that have the immediacy of today's newspapers. In five discrete monologues, staged as documentary film sequences, three men and two women, all serial killers, speak candidly, as if giving an interview to the audience. The voices and words (mostly from public record) of Ted Bundy (Eric Mayer), Genene Jones (Alicia Bartya), Andrei Chikalito (Paul Floding), Aileen Wuornos (Kelly Hill), and Richard Ramirez (Chris Stack) draw the viewer into the world of the evil others among us today.
The monologues build organically, starting with Ted Bundys persona of the charmingly handsome boy-next-door (like the charismatic chameleon of The Talented Mr. Ripley or the tabloid Andrew Cunanon). The interviews progress, in multicultural and cogendered balance, through the encyclopedia of the psychohistories, personality traits, cognitive states of self-knowledge, and even of victim-by-victim accounting of murders by the murderers present.
It's easy to be seduced by the charmthe sociopaths charismaand the earnest conviction of each killer that he or she has only acted logically, reasonably, and usually in self-defense. At the most extreme, as in Andrei Chikalitos case, the murderer-victimizer makes the plausible argument that he has done nothing different than what society in general, and numerous people individually, have done.
The writing and direction by Meyersand the mesmerizingly devastating performances of Paul Floding and Aileen Wuornos in particularmake vivid the serial killers reality. We, too, become caught up in the logic of their psychosomatic fallacy (the difference between how I experience myself and how others experience me). Chikolita drives home the point: How can putting on a uniform make a murder not a murder?
Meyers demonstrates through exacting specifics of each sociopath how the personal background has brought them to their point of view. Abusive, chaotic childhoods; domestic trauma compounded by the social agencies and institutions of education, the law, social welfare, and common-sense; the trauma and instability of poverty itself all come into play. In the case of Chikalito, the trauma of surviving World War II in Soviet Russia was a key factor. It becomes difficult to disagree with the reasonableness of these deviant senses of ethics.
Ultimately, these sociopaths have simply integrated societys messages about sex, violence, and human worth, and they express them as anomalous Lustmord-style sexual fetishes. Serial killers seem to see the world in the reversed reflection of a mirror. The world is a nightmare from which they cannot escape, except through their homicidal moments when they assert pure control over another human being. Most people do symbolically or in their secret musings what serial killers compulsively act out. Which side of the mirror are we really standing on?
- Les Wright