Jeff Smith 12:01 p.m., March 29
In Ansel Smith's moldy trailer, on the outskirts of Dallas, there are no secrets, or boundaries. He and wife Sharla work for a living, but just enough to keep the grime-streaked fridge stocked with beer. Son Chris deals cocaine but owes $6000 to his connection. How to raise the money? Easy: murder his mother for her life insurance. After all, he and his father agree, she's just a "beat-up old nagging ugly alcoholic woman." Ansel has misgivings, though. "You're gonna kill somebody?" he asks Chris. "You can't even tell time!" They hire "Killer Joe" Cooper, a detective who moonlights as a hit man. Since the Smiths are broke and Joe wants a retainer, he takes 20-year-old virginal, sleepwalking Dottie Smith in trade. Killer Joe is Tracy Letts's first play (he wrote the 2008 Pulitzer-winner Autumn: Osage County). Savage, creepy funny, and riveting, Killer unfolds like Tobacco Road and Curse of the Starving Class, with a dash of Greater Tuna (reimagined by Charles Whitman) thrown in. Compass Theatre's production, even with some annoying tech problems, captures the play's rabid, rats-in-a-cage essence (also Letts's ironies: Killer may be the only American drama in the last 50 years that lauds the virtues of TV: as long as the tube beams, the Smiths are narcotized by the flickering light). Lisa Berger's direction never flinches at the violence, frontal nudity, or the characters' unmasked atavism. Don Pugh's Joe, slow, precise, fussy neat, is always an inch from exploding, and when he does, Michael McKeon's intricately detailed set gets a monster trashing. Amanda Cooley Davis, her hair like a mop, makes Dottie both an innocent and a ghoul, the one an outcome of the other. Joe Baker, Judy Bauerlein-Mitchell, and Mike Sears also contribute. As does Rob Hurlbut's inventive sound design, not just the thunder and loud TV and radio, but every time that dog barks next door, trouble brews.
Worth a try.
When: Ongoing until Sunday, April 5, 2009
- Sundays, 2pm
- Thursdays, 8pm
- Fridays, 8pm
- Saturdays, 4pm & 8pm