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Saturday, 07 April 2012 17:25

'Killer Joe' will just slay you ... funny, warped, engaging theatre.

Written by Dennis Corcoran
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'Killer Joe' will just slay you ... funny, warped, engaging theatre.

Killer Joe is a sordid, sick tale of violence, depravity, greed, drugs, nudity and sex all set in a Texas trailer park, peopled by the disturbingly dysfunctional Smith family and their hired gun – a cop by day, a hit man by night - Killer Joe.

And it’s hilarious. Yeah – sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Killer Joe, Tracey Lett’s intensely dark comedy, was his first play.  He followed it up with more noted work, Bug and the Pulitzer Prize winning August: OsageCounty.  But Killer Joe has it all - oh, not if you’re looking for a moral, a message or deep meaning – or any meaning at all.  No, I don’t you think you’ll find any of those here.  If you do, let me know what they are.  But if you want to have your attention grabbed from the outset and held without break until curtain close, Killer Joe will fit the bill.

In this Actor’s Studio production, the cast and crew do a stellar job.  There is a lot going on in a very small space.  Partial nudity, sex scenes, a ferocious fight, lots of blood, beer, TV and outright stupidity ala the “Beverly Hillbillies”, only with a very dark twist.

The Smith family - Sharla, the step-mom, Ansel, the dad, Chris, the son and Dottie, the daughter - are all in need of much - and we’re talking basics here:  smarts, common sense, a little money and some direction other than straight downhill to nowhere.  I mean, what family decides the best way to raise money is by hiring a killer – “Killer” Joe Cooper, in this case – to off your mom/ex-wife for the insurance, which … well, I won’t say more.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.

James E. Slover as the son, Chris, does a fabulous acting job.  Voice, facial expressions, energy, movement are all spot on.  The same can (almost) be said of all the actors:  Missy Miller as Sharla, Larry Dell as Ansel, Rachel Fenton as Dottie and Jason Cannon as “killer” Joe Cooper.  The ensemble cast made this play sparkle, if you can apply that term to something so warped.

My hat is off to director Milt Zoth.  There is a lot going on, continuously, in this staging and he juggles all the balls beautifully, keeping the action rolling from beginning to end, allowing the comedy of it all – though often sick and depraved – to always come through. 

Nothing is perfect.  But my single biggest puzzlement was with the audience, not the show.  Why did everyone clap at scene changes?  I guess it’s just me …

And, in the spirit of picking nits, here’s one or two:  the boom-box radio on stage left had all of its sound coming from stage right; and why the periodic claps of thunder when there was no evidence of rain or lightening, except at the top of the show?  Again, maybe just me – or something peculiar about Texas weather.  But, as I said, these are nits in an otherwise most engaging evening of theatre.

Kudos to the props and set designers, Lisa Beke and Patrick Huber, respectively.  Subtle touches, such as the corrugated tin skirting of the stage and the cardboard and duct-taped refrigerator door guard, to mention just two, were a delight.  Soulard rehabbers of long ago will know these decorative flairs as "hoosier BS". 

And a word of congratulations to the costumer designer, Teresa Doggett for her appropriately trailer-trashy attire, including the ragged tear in Dottie’s sweatshirt top. 

A nice job technically all the way around.

Some years ago, I was a social worker, a family crisis intervention worker, in rural Missouri.  I know this family.  I know them well.   And St. Louis Actor’s Studio did a very fine job of bringing them up to St. Louis for you to get to know them, too.

Killer Joe continues at the Gaslight Theatre through Sunday, April 22.  For more information, you may call 314-458-2978 or visit on the web. 

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