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Review: Interplayers Theatre’s ‘Never the Sinner’ smart, well-acted

Interplayers Theatre’s production of “Never the Sinner,” a penetrating historical drama by John Logan, delivers strong performances and is well-choreographed by director Ken Urso.

The story centers on the relationship between notorious killers Nathan Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, who were wealthy 19-year-old University of Chicago law students when they murdered a young teen in 1924.

Logan tackles the “trial of the century” in a theatrical way, alternating scenes of the trial and interactions between the men in a nonlinear fashion. In the beginning, it is hard to grasp exactly what is happening, especially if one isn’t familiar with the Leopold and Loeb story. But the ending will have more impact if one doesn’t read the program notes.

Leopold (Nich Witham) and Loeb (Jackson Marchant) are like two binary stars orbiting each other, spinning through space and wreaking havoc in their wake. Witham is dangerously uptight as the super-intelligent Leopold, who follows the charismatic Loeb through his crime fantasies. Marchant portrays the arrogant and narcissistic Loeb well.

The two attorneys, prosecutor Robert Crowe (Todd Kehne) and Clarence Darrow (Michael Weaver), are a parallel pair on opposite sides of the law.

Crowe seems to be playing only one angry note until the second act, when Logan gives him and Darrow a moment where both reveal their motives for participating in the trial. Crowe’s admission adds depth to his character and Kehne’s performance.

Weaver is excellent as Darrow, showing the inner conflict he feels defending two admitted murderers, one of whom is the son of a friend. He delivers Darrow’s famous summation in a controlled manner, driving home his point: Mercy is a higher form of justice.

This speech, and other interactions, would have had even more impact had the lighting not contained bothersome dark spots.

Urso’s staging is simple, featuring an empty stage except for a few chairs and two tables on wheels, proving that less is more. The movement of the actors is well-choreographed, and the action is accented by projections of authentic trial photos and portraits.

A chorus of three reporters – Patrick Treadway, Jerry Sciarrio and Molly Ovens – shout out transitions in the play in the form of headlines. They also embody a series of minor characters. They are clearly a device in the play, but Urso uses them to enhance the play’s tone and style.

The script is smart, fast-moving and complicated. It is the kind of storytelling that one must pay attention to or risk missing an important detail. Don’t blink.

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