note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Joe Coyne
Music and Orchestration Will Todd
Story and Libretto David Simpatico
Director Neil Donohoe
Musical Director Bill Casey
Guest Conductor Reuben M. Reynolds III
Scenic Designer Andrew Stuart
Costume Designer David Costa-Cabral
Lighting Designer John Malinowski
Sound Design Richard Malcolm
Stage Manager Adele Traub
Assistant Stage Manager Christine Cherry
Kitty Genovese.................Cori Pfeffer
Winston Mosley.....John Michael Dias
It is unfortunate the production schedule for this wonderful work is but five performances when there are musicals that have the half life of heavy cream and are still up and running. The energy and verve of the Boston Conservatory world premier of “The Screams of Kitty Genovese” deserves to be seen and heard by a wider audience. Despite the director's insistence in the program, "It is important as a true account of recent history," it is a searing indictment of the type of mentality spawned by urbanism and isolationism. Ms Genovese was a 1964 murder and rape victim in the Queens section of New York. Many of her neighbors heard her cries for help and assistance and did not respond. They did nothing, not even to drop a dime.
The team of David Simpatico and Will Todd have adapted the incident and in honing the story, they have considered the reasoning of nine of the thirty-eight witnesses the police interviewed. It is not a sympathetic attempt to understand what goes on in someone's mind, it is an indictment of their failures and of their preoccupation with consumption and the smallness of life. We are shown the violence in the streets and the passive violence in their failure to protect.
The label of opera seems highly appropriate but the program refers to it as a "musical drama". The company sings, "Just Another Night" as a way of introducing the stories of the tenants who live in the apartment building where the murder occurred: a narrator relates the tale then falls asleep dreaming of when she was as pretty as Kitty. Cori Pfeffer who portrays Kitty exudes much excitement about life and wanders the stage wondering if she will meet anyone special tonight. She is so pleased, it is as if she has not read the program notes. Her acting compliments her impressive range: she did not permit her voice to resort to elongations of breathing or excessive screaming during the crime. While she seeks to escape, (the killer returned twice in his demented state to finish her off) Ms. Pfeffer crawls the floor and the stairs of the set crying out for help. As the actual murder took 35 minutes, so too there is an abundance of time as the residents stare out their windows watching the action. She approaches one of her neighbors who refuses her entrance and with the effective use of strobe lights falls floatingly down the stairs.
John Michael Dias is not lit up as he stands under the street light, and searches via a torch song along the lines of, "Someone is Aching". The story devotes more time to the examination of the killer's illogic and reasoning, his uncontrollable needs and his view that women are like flies, always deceiving. Kitty and her killer share, "Reach Out and Touch" with their different meanings.
One of the couples that heard the screams engage in a realistic and impressive sexual union which fails to advance the plot line. The director should have filed it for another production.
The Conservatory should be applauded for the quality of the production, for another quality production. May their collaboration with the Eugene O'Neill National Theater Center continue. For anyone on a tight budget the price is only $5 a ticket and their next theater presentment is, "The Rimers of Eldritch" in early December
One of the comments in response to A.M. Rosenthal's newspaper column in the NY Times which reported the incident, was that Kitty gave/gives us the opportunity to examine the truth about apathy. There were 38 people who refused to act and I doubt if there was one person in the audience who believed they could be in that class. By indicting the witnesses rather than searching for understanding, the play has given the audience excessive wiggle room to know we are not of them. We would have responded proudly.
The answer to the question of why they were apathetic is not in the libretto. The question of why we might be apathetic is not asked. It is still there for us to examine and to ponder. I still wonder. I wonder if they heard screams, not a death; saw shadows not a stabbing. As I write this I hear a car alarm going off in the parking area where I live. What to do. We are a better nation than that portrayed, whether it be in Queens or Wyoming. In one of Joseph Campbell's videos he is asking a young policeman, married with kids and a wife, why he would risk his life and climb up the bridge and seize a person who was threatening to jump. His answer was, "What else could I do? I could not live with myself if I did not make the attempt." Are there more of them than there are of us?
"The Laramie Project" (Boston Theatre Works until November 25th) gives us the same response with the death of Matthew Shepard tied to a fence in remote Laramie and severely beaten. We can examine our reasoning, about why his death happened, about the attitudes that might have lead to it, about our hidden prejudices, about the difference between Laramie and Lexington. With Matthew it is labeled a hate crime and the call went out for Hate Crime Legislation. He like Kitty is a catalyst, but they are both people first. "The Screams of Kitty Genovese" makes Kitty all the more real, while leaving too many questions about the many people who could have helped her.
If there is hope, it is with the people who worked to change the laws, to create the 9-1-1 system, to set up neighborhood watches. The newspaper reports flaunting the flagrant apathy of Ms Genovese's neighbors cannot account for the manner is which Kitty's killer was captured six days later. Neighbors who believed a person in their building was a suspicious character, at risk to themselves disabled his car as they called the police. The person arrested confessed to her murder.