In 1931, Peter Kurten terrorized Germany with little reason. Other than it sexually gratified him. Trolling Dusseldorf, he raped, beat, and murdered without prejudice. Men, women, and children. No one was safe from his bloodlust.
Anthony Neilson, in his 1991 play, has brought Kurten back to life with a sleek (slightly fictionalized) script that speaks to an enduring human fascination with serial killers. We are, after all, still documenting Charles Manson, making films about Jeffrey Dahmer, and centering TV shows on Jack the Ripper.
Here, that fascination manifest in refined dialogue, comic vaudevillian-segments, and insanely human characters, all deftly directed by Jay D. Brock.
Kurten (Alex Zavistovich) details his killings to his young, upstart lawyer, Justus Wehner (Brian McDermott), who wants Kurten to plead insanity. In his quest to understand the mind behind the man, Wehner visits Frau Kurten (Elizabeth Darby) and entangles himself in a morbid love triangle. We all seek life validation and self-acceptance; that it may take some into the dark or through monstrous acts is normal, right? As Wehner says, early on, “Well, you’re still a human being…despite what you’ve done.”
For anyone (like me) who binge-watches Criminal Minds, Kurten’s wicked psychological profile isn’t surprising and the play is far less gory than, say, any of the CSI franchises. But a child’s corpse does waltz with Kurten, who has an earnest, honest, antagonistic creep more disturbing than blood. He’s as equally concerned about the shine on his shoes as he is steeped in depravity begot by an abusive childhood.
Closes March 30, 2014
Molotov Theatre at
DC Arts Center
2438 18th Street NW
1 hour, 10 minutes no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
The music is the play’s unsung (no pun intended) fourth character. It’s sparse, cadenced, but playful and, yet, prickly. Like sounds you may hear at a carnival. Sounds that foreshadow a foul day’s demise. And these heighten the best sequences.
As Kurten courts his future Misses, they pantomime and dance through “The Art of Seduction.” Kurten offers the former prostitute roses, diamonds, and a one-knee proposal. But, it’s the threat of death—sliding his hand across her neck in the global symbol for murder—that convinces the Frau this is her man. In a completely true detail, the Frau herself has shot and killed a former lover previously.
It’s the sickest match made in hell. Since Molotov Theatre Group specializes in the macabre, they pull it off with haunting coolness. With minimal props and a meager set (and no fake blood), the actors must paint a picture of Kurten—the Ripper, the Vampire of Dusseldorf—and the horror he wreaked mostly with just themselves.
They do it terrifyingly well. I’d binge-watch Normal any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Just for good measure.
Normal by Anthony Neilson . Directed by Jay D. Brock . Featuring Elizabeth Darby as Frau Kurten, Brian McDermott as Justus Wehner, and Alex Zavistovich as Peter Kurten . Composer/Sound Designer Gregg Martin . Choreography: Sarah Frances Williams . Fight Choreography: Alex Zavistovich . Lighting Designer: Pete Vargo . Production Stage Manager: Elliot Lanes . Set Construction: Morgan Sexton . Costuming: Libby Dasbach . Produced by Molotov Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.