Part of the company of Never the Sinner.
Photo courtesy Candid Theater Company
The case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, a pair of rich teenagers who killed for the thrill of it and to prove that they were ubermenchen, was an early "trial of the century" in 1924. The handsome duo captured the attention of Chicago, and caused a media frenzy as famed lawyer Clarence Darrow sought a way to save them from the hangman's noose.
John Logan's Never the Sinner delves into the hurricane of issues in the case, including capital punishment, mental illness, and the gay side of Leopold and Loeb's relationship. The current Candid Theater production of the work doesn't quite find the cohesion for a fully satisfying evening, but does have a number of compelling moments.
Playwright Logan wrote Never the Sinner
early in his career, long before his stage (such as the Tony winning Red
) and film (not for his script of Star Trek: Nemesis
) success took off. The play has the feel of an early work, with an author trying to jam every thought he has about the story into a less-than-two-hour framework.
The piece is best when it focuses on Leopold and Loeb. That is due, in part, to the solid performances by James Napoleon Stone and Peter Beard as the two young murderers. The duo, who earned an Ivey earlier this year for their direction of Hamlet for Theatre Coup d'Etat, bring out the odd nuances and subtle turns of their relationship.
They play characters who are remarkably bright (both graduated college by the time they were 19), but also remarkably stunted in emotional growth. Each actor builds a strong facade for their character, which they then drop for great effect, such as the terrifying recreation of the murder near the end of act one, or the revealing of their fears for the future in act two.
These nuances are important, because the fact that they are cold-blooded killers is never far from our minds. That comes clear in the second act, as their trial (actually a sentencing hearing, as they pled guilty to murder) hinges on whether they should hang or not for their crimes.
Logan gives each side of the argument good play, using the words of prosecuting attorney Crowe (Katherine Preble) and Darrow (Steve Flamm) to build up the reasons. Preble is very good as the driven Crowe, who has excellent reasons to look to some Old Testament justice. Flamm doesn't quite bring Darrow to life, though his final statements carry plenty of weight.
All in all, director Justin M. Kirkeberg helms an uneven show. The production feels aimless at times, with actors seemingly wandering around stage instead of moving with purpose. At both the end of the first and second acts, it's only clear that we've reached that point because the house lights come up.
There is enough intrigue left in the event (it's been the fodder for plenty of stories over the last century) and characters to hold interest throughout the show. A stronger focus would have made it all the more stronger.
IF YOU GO:
Never the Sinner
Through Dec. 22
The People's Center Theater
425 20th Ave. S., Minneapolis
For more information, call 1.800.838.3006 or visit online.