You have to admire the boldness of Sacred Fools Theater Company. As I have been covering their productions over the past four years, I have come to relish the company’s audacity, their damn-the-torpedoes-full-steam-ahead bravado. Often their projects are flat out brilliant, as, for example, The Art Couple and A Gulag Mouse testify. Others might just miss greatness, but are still admirable in effort.
With playwright/lyricist Vanessa Claire Stewart’s, Deadly, now in its world premiere run, Sacred Fools has invested a lot in its swing-for-the-fences production, guided by the always inventive director Jaime Robledo. Set in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair: Columbia Exposition, Deadly centers on the story of the notorious serial killer, H. H. Holmes (the slick, unctuous, sensationally mustachioed Keith Allan) who admitted to twenty-seven murders, although only nine could be verified. I would love to call the production a grand guignol bloodbath, but the horror is more on an intellectual level. Murders are done with gas, poison, strangulation, fire, and neck snaps.
As a kick-off of what is to come, a well-sung female chorus, who represent seven of Holmes’ murder victims (Cj Merriman, Brittney S. Wheeler, Kristyn Evelyn, Erica Hanrahan-Ball, Ashley Diane, Rebecca Larsen, and Samantha Barrios), set the stage. Each victim in this ghostly choir is garbed, not in angel robes or funeral shrouds, but rather in costume designer Linda Muggeridge’s inventive fashion of shabby, elegant layers of ragged leggings, corsets and bustiers, that indicate the fashion of some sort of after life. Each woman comes back in life elegantly dressed and yearning for love or feminine equality. Each becomes seduced by Holmes and comes back to join the ragged band of spirits who then try to intervene, fruitlessly, in the mounting toll of death.
Holmes also seduces a lackey, a poor, spineless schmuck named Benjamin Pitezel (David LM McIntyre who splits the role with French Stewart), who reluctantly does his master’s bidding. The evil doings are actually flashbacks of Holmes, now a prisoner, being interviewed by the dogged policeman, Frank Geyer (Eric Curtis Johnson), who is bent on getting a confession.
A few considerations: in the action of the opening chorus number, some lyrics get lost. The show is long. The first act clocks in at around and hour and a half. The second act picks up steam considerably, but when I left the theatre, my watch read ten forty-five.
The physical production is terrific with set design by Stephen Gifford, lighting design by Andrew Schmedake, sound design by Cricket S. Myers, projection design by Corwin Evans, prop design by Brandon Clark, hair and makeup by Kat Bardot, and costume design by Linda Muggeridge. The show’s choreographer is Brin Hamblin and fight choreography is by Jo Ann Mendelson; and Sofija Dutcher manages the stage with aplomb.
The music by composer/musical director Ryan Thomas Johnson fits the action perfectly. The band is Brenda Vardon, piano; Zachary Berstein, drums; Lisa Davis, violin; and Katt Newlon, cello. Additional lyrics are supplied by Trey Perkins and Guy Picot.
Deadly, produced for Sacred Fools by Brian W. Wallis, with Associate Producers K.J. Middlebrooks and French Stewart, continues through November 2 at The Broadwater Main Stage, 1076 Lillian Way in Los Angeles.