Never the Sinner-The Leopold and Loeb Story
Mauckingbird Theatre Company
August 8-30, 2009
Adrienne Theatre, Philadelphia
Even with the stock plotline of a murderous homosexual couple already built into the story, John Logan’s Never the Sinner -The Leopold and Loeb Story, goes for more than easy answers to get to the criminal motivations of these men. Mauckingbird Theatre Company’s current production keys into that for thrilling theater beyond the brutal subject matter.
Logan, now a highly successful screenwriter, frontloads Never the Sinner with flashy clipped cinematic scenes, reporters pop out of nowhere for ‘20s style extra extra’ trial headlines to the point of distraction. Structurally, Director Peter Reynolds can’t override all of Logan’s staccato pacing, but Reynolds’ sharp narrative focus frames the two riveting performances by Brian Kurtas as Nicholas Leopold and Evan Jonigkeit as Richard Loeb.
The psycho schema of Leopold and Loeb is well known – their murderous deeds are somehow tied to their sexual relationship and emotional codependency. Hitchcock buried the subtext into an intellectual parlor game by two dandies in Rope and versions of it turned up in several other films. Logan doesn’t tie things up so neatly, going instead for a meaty character study.
Kurtas, who stepped late in the role, plays Leopold, an ornithological student, with an icy smolder as he absolves himself from his crimes and gives intellectual order to mayhem. He gives peeks at the character’s fear and humanity through a piercing gaze. A sharp stoic foil to Loeb’s comely dazzle.
Jonigkeit is a handsome stage presence, but his good looks are just one of the masks. Jonigkeit is volcanic as he tries to contain Loeb’s mix of brio, cynicism and vulnerability. Whether he is slinging nihilistic quotes from Nietzsche or conning Leopold and his girlfriends with his ‘boyo’ jazz-age shtick, he unlocks Loeb’s labyrinth of emotional turmoil. It is a finely paced performance.
Their dangerous duet is symbolized in a diabolical dervish of a waltz with the pair bathed in blood red light. The body language between the two killers, intimate but observant of the period of what is acceptable between two men, is so deft.
Nice character moments for the supporting cast- Jessica Bedford, Matthew Lorenz and Robb Hunter- who switch sketchy roles as court reporters, spectators and court witnesses. Dan Kern and Robert Crowe hand in solid performances as the two opposing lawyers. Stylishly lighting design by Maria Shaplin, punctuated with electrocuted glare plays off Lorenz‘s creepy sound design. Mauckingbird’s set and costume designer Marie Anne Chiment does it again here with impeccable detail fitting the period suits and accoutrement.