One of the most absorbing, original, and inventive shows now playing in the Hollywood Fringe Festival must be The Puckwit Gang’s In Conclusion, which is so much more than the conventional courtroom drama hinted at in the title. Those aware of early Twentieth Century crime will suss out a connection to a famous murder and the sensational trial that followed.
Under the keen direction of Ben Landmesser, abetted by the extraordinary choreography of Armando Eleazar Estrada, the story of two privileged, University of Chicago college students, who plotted and executed the grizzly murder of a fourteen-year old boy, is laid out in stylized, sensual movement. When the audience enters the intimate theatre space, the cast is in place. A tall, attractively severe woman (Stefanie Rons) paces about the stage in rigid, lock-step fashion as if in preparation. Against the stage right wall, three actors are positioned and move very little. A smaller woman reads a newspaper, and two young men huddle together on a bench. A stenotype machine and a chair at stage right awaits a court reporter (Meagan Truxal).
Once the action starts, it is clear that a murder trial is taking place and that the tall woman is the prosecutor who, determined to obey the letter of law, seeks execution. The smaller woman (Kacie Rogers) is the defense attorney and fights for justice that does not include the taking of life. The story of how the two young murderers meet and become entangled is expressed by intimate, chastely erotic choreography. Christian Gnecco Quintero and Pablo Castelblanco move with extraordinary precision, twining and grappling, surging together and parting, and sometimes sitting and reading, as their contact becomes more and more intimate. The brilliant young scholars believe themselves so superior that they can get away with murder. There is tension and affection and moments of repulsion. They are brilliant.
The courtroom clash of the opposing attorneys is just as riveting, as Ms. Rogers fights for life, while Ms. Rons is determined to seen them hang, “in accordance with the law.” They are enemies in the court, but have a more friendly relationship outside. In a curious fashion, somehow in the course of action, most likely offstage, the women each develop a modest baby bump, which adds a soupçon of touching humanity to the proceedings.
For theatrical purposes, the defendants are given the pseudonyms of Klosterman and Klein. At the end, the murder victim, who throughout has been referred to as Bobby, is identified as Robert Franks.
House lights come up and the court reporter polls the audience on life or death for the defendants. She puts it on us, just as every execution done in the name of the people is on us. A sobering moment and the perfect capstone for an extraordinary show.
The sound design by Alan Balandra is excellent and the choice of Betty Boop’s 1929 hit “I Want to Be Bad” gives the show its one moment of sardonic humor. Besides serving as court reporter, Ms. Truxel is also the stage manager.
I urge you to see this show. See it now while you can. It’s a knockout!
In Conclusion, a Puckwit Gang production, plays Sunday, June 9 at 8:00pm; Tuesday, June 11 at 8:30pm; Sunday, June 16 at 8:00pm; Sunday, June 23 at 10:00pm; Monday, June 24 at 8:30pm; Tuesday, June 25 at 6:30pm; and Thursday, June 27 at 10:30pm, at Los Angeles LGBT Center’s The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place in Los Angeles.