Never The Sinner is Not Yet There
By: Fiona Zublin
Never The Sinner – Actor’s Theater Of Washington
In 1924, two teenagers, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, committed murder for no reason. They were intelligent-both had IQs placing them well above “genius”-and bored, and rich. They have fascinated the world ever since, and make for great drama. They inspired Alfred Hitchcock, Meyer Levin, and a playwright named John Logan. His play, Never the Sinner, has the potential to be a transcendent work of theater, blending the immortal words of historical figures like Clarence Darrow with scenes of his own invention.
The play follows the real-life murder trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two young men preoccupied with the Nietchzean idea of the ubermensch who decided to see if they could commit the perfect murder. They couldn’t: they were caught and charged. Logan’s play follows their intense, intricate homosexual relationship, perfectly displaying how Loeb’s easy charm and sociopathic tendencies blended with Leopold’s unmatched genius and need for love to create a murder plot. Leopold and Loeb have fascinated dramatists and filmmakers since their trial because their crime was so unwarranted, their motives so murky. They are modern-day Iagos, and, like that Shakespearean villain, always leave an audience slightly unsatisfied: we want to know what drove them to murder, and no answer arises.
Actor’s Theater of Washington’s production of Never the Sinner takes risks. Director Jeffrey Johnson has condensed the cast, originally comprised of eight, down to three: Leopold (Ashley Ives), Loeb (Joe Brack), and one everyman who represents the rest of the world (John C. Bailey.) This, like many of Johnson’s directorial choices, is both excellent and counterproductive-it does distill the play into a pure examination of one relationship, but the script’s limitations actually require Ives and Brack to play various other roles, heightening confusion and disrupting the play’s universe. Bailey is more successful in some roles (Clarence Darrow) than others (Richard Loeb’s girlfriend), but he manages to differentiate between his many characters. One rather confusing directorial choice involves Bailey seemingly reading his lines-and some stage directions-from a page.
Ives and Brack both offer good performances that may evolve into excellence once they have settled into their roles. Ives in particular possesses a shy creepiness that perfectly offsets Brack’s all-smiles performance as the charismatic Loeb. Each of these roles is an actor’s dream, but neither actor has quite risen to the outstanding standard established by Logan’s script. Yet. Director Johnson possesses a striking sense of movement and tone that is invaluable to his stylish staging.
Last night, Never the Sinner was worth seeing, but it was not transcendent. The potential is there, and I hope they achieve it.
Never the Sinner plays at the Source Theater (1835 14th St NW) October 20 – November 19 Thursday through Sunday evenings. Tickets: $25-30. For reservations, call 800-494-8497 or purchase tickets online:www.atwdc.org.
One Response to “Never The Sinner is Not Yet There”
This weekend (Fri., Sat., Sun.) is “pay what you can” so come out and see the show!