Praise for Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story (August 2009)
“… This new kid in town offers intelligently selected and well produced gay-related work performed for thinking audiences of whatever persuasion.” – CurtainUp.com
A CurtainUp Review
Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story
By Kathryn Osenlund
We are Supermen. We are above the law. — Richard Loeb
The darkest recesses of the human mind are in question here.— Clarence Darrow
The publication of several books on Leopold and Loeb in the last five or so years has sparked renewed interest in this crime story. In particular, the appearance of Simon Baatz’s 2008 best seller, For The Thrill of It, which came out in paperback this April, makes this a smart time to fill a theater with John Logan’s award-winning 1985 play. With Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story Mauckingbird Theatre Company is introducing a new generation of theater goers to the 1924 “Crime of the Century.” [Consider one segment of theatre’s up and coming new audiences: Most freshmen entering U.S. universities this fall were born in 1991. Gives one pause.]
The playwright’s first play, Never the Sinner tells the story of two very privileged, very young men and their cynical, random crime that intriguingly lacks a traditional sense of motive. It is a “social experiment,” a “philosophical exercise.” This is a tale about Richard Loeb (Evan Jonigkeit), insouciant and narcissistic, who enjoys being seen as a criminal mastermind— and Nathan Leopold, Jr. (Brian Kurtas) with his psycho-homoerotic obsession, who felt that Loeb’s brilliance “reflects on me and makes me beautiful too.” Throw in the public’s fascinated outrage, the ensuing media circus (reporters Robb Hunter, Jessica Bedford, Matthew Lorenz), the state’s attorney’s (Eric Kramer) reasoned popular arguments, and finally Clarence Darrow’s (Dan Kern) strategy for the defense. And you’ve got a play that won’t quit —or acquit.
This is a good choice for Mauckingbird. Tightly written in short scenes, the playwright skips the boring parts and catapults you into the dark story, which makes the director’s job easier— not to take anything away from Artistic Director Peter Reynolds’ button-down direction. And despite a late casting change the cast is rock solid, equity and non-equity alike.
Marie Anne Chiment’s stage set of fairly narrow drops and a few chairs is from the skip-the-crap school of scenic design. While facilitating the action it lends the substantial feel of a big show to an intimate space. Chiment, also the costume designer, got the costumes just right.
Note on the playwright: In the early 90s Logan revisited “crime of the century” drama with his play, Hauptmann, but he has long since left the stage behind and gone on to Hollywood, writing the story and/or screenplay for big time movies like Any Given Sunday (Oliver Stone, 1999), Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000), The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004), and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, 2007). For HBO: RKO 281.
Mauckingbird’s mission is to produce professional gay-themed theatre (and secondarily, classics, musicals, and infrequently produced works). With just three productions behind them and this one tearing up the stage, they look like old hands — assured and accomplished. A welcome addition to the Philadelphia theater scene, this new kid in town offers intelligently selected and well produced gay-related work performed for thinking audiences of whatever persuasion.