Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Never The Sinner"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark

"Never The Sinner"

by John Logan
Directed by Spiro Veloudos

Scenic Design by Brynna Bloomfield
Lighting Design by Yael Lubetzky
Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley
Sound Design by David Maddox
Stage Manager Laurie Light

Nathan Leopold..........John Kuntz
Richard Loeb.............Bill Mootos
Clarence Darrow...Bill Humphreys
Robert Crowe...............Dale Place
Reporter 1............Stephen Benson
Reporter 2..............Andrea Walker
Reporter 3.................Steve Rotolo

John Logan's award-winning play "Never The Sinner: The Leopold & Loeb Story" having it's Boston premiere at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, has an excellent second act. Bill Humphreys playing defense council Clarence Darrow argues, in court and personally, with Prosecuting Attorney Robert Crowe (played by Dale Place) over the necessity of hanging two kids --- Bill Mootos as Loeb and Jonathan Kuntz as Leopold --- who killed an innocent boy just to prove themselves Nietzchean supermen above the law. There are brief scenes and flashbacks that illuminate details, but the trial cuts free of its 1924 realities and becomes a timeless confrontation over the usefulness of social vengeance. And considering the power of this conflict, it's odd that Logan feels it necessary to fill in all the historic details of this "trial of the century" in a flat, uninspired first act.

It's never the acting at fault here. Stephen Benson, Andrea Walker and Steve Rotolo play headline-spouting yellow-press journalists and also several quick-cameo minor parts, and Mootos and Kuntz give compellingly believable performances, but all this background cannot hold a candle to the Court T-V spectaculars of the last few years no matter how hard the cast tries. The fact is, the drama here is much less in the true details than in the almost mythical ideas that go at it, head to head, after the act break.

As Crowe, Dale Place is the essence of genuine moral rectitude. His ramrod-straight frame, greying hair and gold-rimmed glasses argue his position as eloquently as his summation-speech. Bill Humphreys plays Darrow as his total antithesis --- rumpled, histrionic in his pausings, flatly calling spades spades, and succinctly caustic in objection.

All the background and the homosexual overtones in the murderers' story is dribbled out in brief vignettes interrupting the trial, and Mootos and Kuntz are eloquently direct in both their growing infatuation with one another (and each with his own inflated ego) as well as in the doubts and disillusion that devour them during the trial. People who know Jonathan Kuntz' one-man comedy extravaganzas or remember Mootos in The Lyric's "Miser" earlier this year will admire the vibrant conviction with which they switch gears from comedy to tragedy.

The trio of players doing "everyone else" are constantly onstage, notebooks at the ready, attempting jailhouse interviews between chameleon/cameo bits, but the playwright has given them mostly shouted headlines to get across the frenzy of the '20s press-corps. Logan hasn't even separated the three reporters' angles on the story, and never even wrote a scene in which the reporters themselves, from their own shallow perspectives, sat around discussing their stories. Despite these handicaps, this multi-charactered "chorus" fills in all the little roles where the scene seems to finish before anyone has a chance to build up steam.

Brynna Bloomfield's set captures the crazed-marble walls and floors of courthouses; Gail Astrid Buckley's costumes seem "period" without being quaint; Yael Lubetzky's light-plot includes tight areas, dramatic action-shadows, and the shimmer of swamplight; and David Maddox' sound cues exploit mid-twenties jazz. And the deepening interplay between Leopold and Loeb, contrasting with the legal battle of Crowe and Darrow, bears the imprint at every step of Director Spiro Veloudos' insight. It's too bad that, after winning so many awards with his unfinished script, John Logan will never ask Spiro what little of act one should be folded into his excellent act two as he re-writes "Never The Sinner".


"Never The Sinner" (till 18 April)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON

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