Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review-a-Palooza, Part Two

Centerstage has published my review of Tracy Letts' first play, Killer Joe, being revived at Profiles after its world premiere in Chicago 15 years ago. You can read it here.

A personal note on the show: the second production, after Chicago was at the Cleveland Public Theatre. My family friend and theatrical mentor Lynna Snyder (now Metrisin) played Sharla. Since I was ten and the first scene had her in nothing but a t-shirt, I was not permitted to attend. How very wise my parents were.

Also, this seeing Killer Joe means that only Bug stands between me and seeing all of Letts' produced plays. (August on Broadway, Superior Donuts and Man From Nebraska at Steppenwolf.) Anyone want to revive Bug for me?

Anyhow, here's the text of the review.

It's all fun and games until...but that would be giving too much away. Nobody loses an eye in "Killer Joe," the first play by Tracy Letts, now in its first Chicago revival at Profiles Theatre, but what starts as a nastily entertaining black comedy in the first act turns just plain nasty in the second. It's frighteningly convincing, but it takes a high tolerance for close-range violence and disturbing sleaze. If such things turn your stomach, you'll want to flee, but those up for a visceral evening will be thrilled and horrified.

Chris Smith (Kevin Bigley) needs $6,000 or his shady creditors will kill him. The only way he can think of to get the cash is killing his hateful, alcoholic mother to collect her insurance policy, whose beneficiary is his brain-damaged sister, Dottie (Claire Wellin). He quickly gets his father (Howie Johnson) and stepmother (Somer Benson) on board, but they realize that none of them have the courage or skill to pull the trigger. So they hire sheriff/hit man Killer Joe Cooper (Darrell W. Cox). When Joe takes an interest in Dottie, things go wrong very fast.

This is nasty, exploitative stuff, and it's to the credit of director Rick Snyder, the cast, and the designers, that it's presented with intense commitment. Even in the funnier first half, there's no winking at these characters, and no gentling their awful qualities. So when things get violent, it's hard to watch—but hard to turn away. Cox stands out for his toxic, fascinating combination of sleaze and menace, but he fits seamlessly into the exceptionally strong cast. Aside from the pacing sagging a bit in the middle of the first act, everything in the production works together wonderfully. It's just up to you whether it's a journey you want to take.


Monica Reida said...

I think I might have to see this.

Mr. K said...

Ooooh, glad to hear you liked it. I usually like Profiles' work, but last year their season didn't interest me.

As for BUG, maybe someone could make a movie of it? Cast someone like Michael Shannon, maybe, get someone like William Friedkin to direct?

Actually, it's on OnDemand RIGHT NOW!

Zev Valancy said...

I'd still prefer to see BUG live, but I suppose I should track down the movie, if only for Michael Shannon. I wanted to see it in theatres, but it was around for all of 2 weeks, so...

And sadly, I no longer have Comcast, so it's not OnDemand for me.