Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Killer Joe"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark

"Killer Joe"

by Tracy Letts
Directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Set Design by Karine Albano
Sound Design by Naeem Duren
Costume Design by Jennifer Russell
Properties Master Tricia Dunphy
Fight Captains Marianna Bassham, Ken Flott
Rehearsal Stage Manager David Rodrigues
Production Stage Manager Elizabeth Kurtz

Sharla...........................Sarah Isenberg
Chris........................Joshua Wolkomir
Ansel...........................Rick Carpenter
Dottie.....................Marianna Bassham
Joe........................................Ken Flott

TheatreZone was founded in 1995 to produce innovative and socially significant
theatre, and to make participation in the arts accessible to the community
both as audience and participant through affordable prices, training
opportunities for youth and adults, non-traditional casting, opportunities
for artists to experiment and create new work, and the creation of a
home for the arts in Chelsea MA: The Chelsea Theatre Works.
I have no idea where TheatreZone's Artistic Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques finds such exciting plays (before Coyote did their excellent production of Neil Labute's "Bash" she did her own excellent production.) nor the fearless actors she gets to do them. Their production of "Killer Joe" by Tracy Letts illustrates every aspect of the TheatreZone manifesto. The play itself is a boldly original essay in real-time realism in which a family of poor-white Texas trash contract the murder of their divorced mother (counting on $50,000 of insurance) with a rogue detective on the Dallas police force. The "retainer" he demands --- since they cannot pay his fee up-front, as is his usual m.o. --- is the family's innocently naive sister (virgin at 22); but best laid plans gang oft aglee, and there is gunplay, nudity, bloodshed, domineering sexual and physical abuse, threats, counterthreats, subterfuge, revelations, and double-crosses in this often hilarious slice of low-life. This is a contemporary equivalent of "Tobacco Road", with the t-v eternally on, and sometimes turned up so loud no one onstage can hear what's going on.

There is a lot of ridiculous bickering in this play, largely among Rick Carpenter as Ansel, Joshua Wolkomir as his son Chris, and Sarah Isenberg as his floozy new wife. There is less a Southern or Texas accent here than a tawdry trashy rhythm to their outbursts and shouting matches.

Marianna Bassham's Dottie, however, though she's a chronic sleep-walker and may be retarded, is always direct, honest, and sincere. That is also true of Ken Flott's Joe, who becomes the real motor of the show the moment he walks in. "His eyes hurt," is Dottie's assessment of him, and eventually he inflicts considerable pain with more than mere glances. This is not a man to be lied to nor double-crossed lightly.

Tracy Letts cuts off the ends of his scenes as abruptly as a screenplay would, but the cramped and messy trailer-camp set , designed by Karine Albano with props by Tricia Dunphy, is the same throughout, and within each scene the playing is comfortable, naturalistic ensemble work every inch of the way. This is the spiteful south of "The Little Foxes" where power needn't get physical unless absolutely necessary, but a smoldering subtext of violence, when it finally erupts, is beautifully, brutally, convincingly portrayed. Scenes involving total nudity and graphically punishing fellatio, beatings and shootings, are as honestly played as off-hand discussions of matricide and procuring. Yet, given these unscrupulous characters, there may be guffaws at their blatant honesty but the actors never waver in their integrity. Wolkomir and Carpenter are believable buffoons, Isenberg an unscrupulous slut, but while Flott's eyes hurt with assured power, Bassham's hurt with wounded innocence. This is a stunning cast, and the play pulls surprising performances out of four actor I had seen elsewhere.

Obviously, though this play may not be for the squeamish, TheatreZone and Danielle Fauteux Jacques must be doing something right. Catch it if you can.


"Killer Joe" (25 May - 17 June)
Actors' Workshop, 40 Boylston Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 887-2336

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide