Review by Terry Gaisin
Guilt by association is an historical phenomenon. Jews were (and still are) blamed for the crucifixion; all Germans felt the loathing resulting from the conviction of Hauptmann for the Lindburgh kidnapping; and every Italian gleaned aversion after the executions of Sacco & Vanzetti. The Trials of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold added fuel to latent anti-Semitism of the twenties, especially as it added credence that Jews were rich and entitled. Thus, another analysis into their rationale for such an action touched home. Photo by Amir Gavriely
The story of these two intellectually gifted Chicagoan teenagers has been told ad infinitum and popularized by the Meyer Levin fictionalized opus – “Compulsion”. Even CBC’s ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ paraphrased the plotline in a series of episodes. Historically, the two young men suffering under a Nietzsche-esque philosophy of being übermenschen and thus not regulated by contemporary social morality, kidnapped & killed 14-year-old Bobby Franks, Loeb’s 2nd cousin…as an intellectually scientific experiment! In spite of a million-dollar defense by Clarence Darrow; both were convicted & sentenced to life + 99 years at Joliet. Loeb was killed by an inmate a decade later; Leopold was paroled after 34 years; dying in Puerto Rico at age 67.
Brad Walton has created an analytical scrutiny of the mindsets of these two prodigies that could conceivably lead them exponentially down the slippery slope of minor thievery; vandalism and misdemeanor crime to such a cold-hearted execution. By having the protagonists debate philosophers such as Schopenhauer vs Kant; and rejecting the zeitgeist of Hegel. Walton shows the young men with all their warts exposed. The audience sees their sociopathic tendencies; homosexuality; and alpha-beta male bonding even exposing their Sado-masochistic leanings toward one another. Personal experience with gifted school-kids made this writer consider that perhaps one or both suffered from a form of Asperger’s Syndrome (Think Sheldon of Big Bang Theory; Dr. Brennan of BONES and Walter O’Brian of Scorpion).
The alpha-male role of Loeb is portrayed by Alex Clay. His reading into the psyche of his character is detailed in the two solo moments where he is stage front with a Teddy bear with whom he has an almost orgasmic relationship. The bond and association he has with his cohort fluctuates in ways that demonstrate his ambiguous personality. Clay has the ability to appear supercilious even in profile; a thespian talent that is rare. Leopold is interpreted by Tom Beattie and he imparts credibility with every aspect of his persona; whether unequivocal or vague and ambiguous. These diverse characteristics are most apparent in the final denouement dialogue (more about that – later). Beattie is the more unpleasant person and also more bi-polar in attitudes and mind-sets; therefore- an even more interesting specimen of maladjusted youth.
With the exception of the final discourse while the two are commencing their incarceration; every progressive segment holds the interest of the audience, even those aware of the final outcome. I found the ending somewhat trite and left with a feeling of “stay tuned for Part II “. I was unsure as to whether they had any regrets beyond the embarrassment to family and the bickering as to actual blame acceptance. Facing a lifetime of incarceration in Joliet Correctional with its reputation for lack of hygienic amenities, low class of inmates, overcapacity of prisoners and merciless guards; surely there would have been a sense of fear or trepidation leading to a strong regret for their gratuitous action. Perhaps this was an intentional means of expression from director Nina Kaye.
The Dialogues of Leopold & Loeb will be at the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St, Toronto) until Sunday April 17th. No phone no. Website www.dialoguesofleopoldandloeb.ca