Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story
It’s no surprise that the true-life saga of Leopold and Loeb finds itself iterated so frequently in various media. The tale of two Depression-era specimens of South Side royalty who murdered a young boy in an attempt to prove themselves Nietzschean Übermenschen, capable of boldly transcending our contingent moral code, certainly doesn’t lack for intrigue.
It’s disappointing, then, to see a script that deals so ploddingly with the material. An early work by Northwestern grad Logan, an Oscar nominee for Gladiator and The Aviator, this 1990 play is pure historical fiction. It nonetheless employs the staccato pacing of a Moisés Kaufman docu-play, splicing frenetic pressroom and courtroom scenes with underdeveloped, sultry interactions between the murderous couple, who were real-life lovers. More underwhelming than Sinner’s pacing is its rote thematic content. Though prolonged scenes exploring the origins of Leopold and Loeb’s ostensible psychosis earnestly endeavor to elucidate their behavior, the piece ultimately adopts the simplistic narrative (constructed by the pair’s prosecutors) that frames Leopold as the boggled inamorato of hollow sociopath Loeb. In doing so, Sinner brackets and dismisses the intellectual project that obsessed the young murderers, presenting their story as a merely soap-operatic case of repressed desire gone bad.
Despite limiting parameters, the newborn Project 891 manufactures an evening of first-rate theater. As Leopold and Loeb, Ron Popp and Matt Hays enthusiastically plunge into the script’s archetypes of freakazoid and heartbreaker, respectively. Gary Murphy, as defense attorney Clarence Darrow, likewise suffuses a potentially dreary model of middle-aged male stoicism with a welcome dose of wry skepticism. It’s Rashid’s design team, however—with stunning, gray-scale costumes from Liz Hoffman and eerily opulent filmic backdrops by Jim Vendiola—whose stark vision unites the evening into a gorgeous, coherent whole. Look forward to the moment when this collective finds material to match its talent.