1924 PREPPY KILLERS RIDE AGAIN
Kevin Spacey thrilled us all right as the lawyer Clarence Darrow (at the Old
Vic, reviewed here). One of his great triumphs was saving two young men – Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb – from the gallows after they murdered a 12 year old for kicks . The story convulsed the world ninety years ago this month: for some unfathomable reason media always act astonished at crimes committed by affluent, preppy young people (they were law students) . You’d think that personality disorders, selfishness, bored sadism and mutual egging-on to outrage were exclusive to the poor. But L & L have been studied and written about ever since, and this musical treatment by Stephen Dolginoff (joint production with Greenwich Theatre) has met fascinated approval here and off- Broadway.
It feels more operatic than musical-theatre, eschewing big distinctive numbers for a piano upstage (Tom Turner turning in an epic non-stop performance) and atmospheric, intense, threatening music. Which, interestingly, emerges seamlessly from being a sort of film-noir background to accompanying recitative moments and suddenly swooping arias from the two young men. The storytelling is good – and not over-sensational, though the moment when Loeb, alone, lures the unseen boy Bobby into his roadster is truly horrible. Leopold, the seemingly weaker teenage personality of the two, narrates in retrospect from the day of his fifth parole hearing 34 years later, with a longdrawnout mournful melodic line (repeated often) “I went along with him”.
That, in fact, is the emotional core and interest of the piece. Thrill-killing itself – and Loeb’s famous obsession with “Neetchey” and becoming a Nietszchean genius superman – is the most popular source of intellectual dissection of the case, and is covered here. But the real interest is (as in Sondheim’s PASSION ) is the awful, cannibal power of obsessive sexual love. For Leopold the lonely geek, wonderfully realized in a fine debut by Danny Colligan, is homosexually adoring of the preening, psychopathic Loeb – a nicely nasty smooth performance by Jo Parsons. Leopold signs a ‘contract’ to be his idol’s efficient accomplice in all crimes – arson,burglary, vandalism, finally the murder – in return for embraces and friendship. The fawning, shirt-stripping, begging ‘thrill me’ moments are oddly powerful, not least when after one victory (Loeb ground down into bored, unwilling sexual contact) sees them lying together with Leopold’s narrative line ‘it was later that night – about five minutes later”. Poor old Leopold clearly never got much bang for his buck. The only moment when this nasty, humiliating dependence tips over into undignified audience snorts of hilarity is early on, when they are enjoying a warehouse fire they have started , and the acolyte is worried fire engines might come and catch them. Loeb draws him close and purrs “You’re the lookout – tell me if you see anything..BIG and RED coming”. Ouch.
But as it darkens and the effect of this blind adoration and folie-a-deux becomes more complex, any laughter fades in appalled contemplation. As well it might.
http://www.edfringe.com to 24 August