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Never the Sinner

Vengeance seems to be a popular emotion these days. It brings out flags and editorials that rouse us to march half way around the world to destroy those who would use religion as an excuse to murder innocents. Remarkably, our own religious justifications and obscene consumptive habits and the effect they have around the world, including the support of terrorist organizations and their own murderous actions, are somehow overlooked.

Marc Burg and Brian Mallgrave
Marc Berg as Richard Loeb
and Brian Mallgrave as
Nathan Leopold.
In the vein of ideological crimes, seventy-seven years ago in Chicago Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two wealthy young men under the sway of Friedrich Nieztche's philosophy of ubermench, killed Bobby Franks to prove their own righteous invincibility. The press, the public, and the prosecution, citing another philosophy, in this case the Old Testament's "an eye for an eye", railed for their execution in turn.

In the Theatre on Broadway's current production of Never the Sinner, we are asked to serve as the jury for the famous trial of these two unrepentant murderers. Are we swayed by the prosecutor, Crowe, who clamors for retribution by hanging, or by the famous defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, who pleads for "the highest attribute of man"—Mercy?

Director Nicholas Sugar has done a marvelous job of casting. Brian Mallgrave's dark, slight, withdrawn and intellectual Leopold burns with the need for approbation to feed his twisted spirit. Marc Burg is chilling as the tall, light, and arrogant Loeb, an amoral seducer willing to trade sex for power. Steven Miles' Crowe is pompous and strident, while Jim Hunt is eloquent and impassioned as Darrow. Josh Hartwell, Cary Seston, and Kelly Lardie give depth and shape to the reporters and the rest of the ensemble parts.

This strong character work is somewhat dampened, however, by a combination of the book and some directorial choices. The scenes between Darrow and the boys fail to emphasize a viable emotional connection, however negative that might be, between the world of the court and the question of vengeance or mercy—something that would heighten Darrow's lonely crusade for a spiritual response. And Crowe's emotional pitch never varies from a shout, leaving one to wonder at his viability as a political figure. Despite this, the production and the story it portrays are both shocking and explosive and raise questions relevant to our present national hysteria.

The Theatre on Broadway's production of Never the Sinner runs through December 22nd. 303-860-9360.

 

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