5 & DIME THEATRE REVIEW
A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville’s The 5 & Dime Theatre Company opened “Never the Sinner” on November 11, 2016 at The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum; it will remain on stage through November 19. The museum is in Springfield at the corner of First and Laura streets. For tickets, visit www.the5andDime.org.
The play is the twentieth production by the company, which was founded in 2011. For those who have been fans and supporters since the beginning, it has been a unique ride, as this nomadic group has presented plays in many varied locations in Jacksonville’s core. Venues have included the Jacksonville Public Library, the Cummer Museum, the CoRK Arts District, WJCT studios, a Riverside church, downtown night clubs, and their warehouse home on Union Street.
“Never The Sinner” is set in Chicago in 1924, where “the trial of the century” took place over ninety years ago. The play was written by John Logan while he was a student at Northwestern University; the first production was in 1985 at a Chicago theatre and was well-received. Logan has been a prolific playwright and screenwriter, best known for “Red,” a smash hit on Broadway (six Tony awards) as well as here in Jacksonville on ABET’s stage.
The play opens with a conversation about the behavior of avian predators between Nathan Leopold and Robert Loeb, his friend and lover. The two young men – Leopold is nineteen, Loeb is eighteen – had grown up together. Both came from wealthy families and were well educated; Leopold had received an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago; he reportedly spoke fifteen languages and was fluent in five of them. Loeb had graduated from the University of Michigan at age seventeen. Both believed they possessed superior intellects and powers that allowed them to disregard the laws and rules of society.
They had a mutual interest in crime, and at first committed minor crimes – thefts and vandalism – together. They were disappointed when their actions did not lead to media attention, and decided to prove their superiority by planning and executing a murder, a perfect murder that would never be solved.
To tell you more would be depriving you of the suspense related to their apprehension and the hearing, which was actually a sentencing hearing as they both entered guilty pleas and thus evaded a jury trial.
The setting on the stage at Karpeles was designed by Lee Hamby who also directed, along with co-director Josh Waller. Most of the action took place on a large rug in center stage and most of the action was between Leopold and Loeb, as they revealed their personalities while planning their horrifying crime.
Actor Drew L. Brown as Leopold gives a brilliant performance, somewhat withdrawn and socially awkward, but confident of his ability to commit the perfect crime. Brown who is an award-winning film maker has made several notable stage appearances including the young painter in John Logan’s “Red” and roles in “Hairspray,” “Grease,” and “The Rocky Horror Show.”
“Sinner” will introduce Carter Delegal to community theatre as Leopold’s picture-perfect companion, Richard “Dick” Loeb, who remains arrogant even after being jailed. He is a senior at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, with past stage appearances in “How to Succeed in Business” and “Fleas.” The chemistry between Mr. Brown and Mr. Delegal was exceptional.
The supporting cast for “Sinners” is very strong. Joseph Stearman is an actor who is much in demand on local stages from Jacksonville to St. Augustine and his booming voice as the District Attorney was excellent.
Actor Bob Shellenberger is outstanding as celebrity attorney Clarence Darrow, who was hired by the boys’ parents. In real life, Darrow’s presentation reportedly lasted for twelve hours, and his arguments in this case were a surprise to the courtroom participants and spectators. Shellenberger, who has been acting for over fifty years, was line-perfect in this role. We have seen him in many performances, one of the best being his appearance as The Major General in”Pirates of Penzance,” at Players by the Sea.
We thought Lee Hamby’s costume designs were an accurate depiction of the styles of the era. And we especially found Loeb’s two-toned suit (brown and white) particularly interesting, as we rarely see that style today.
If seeing the play stimulates your interest in learning more, then we can recommend the 1959 film “Compulsion,” with Orson Wells and Dean Stockwell. The film is available on Amazon and appears on cable from time to time.
Additional Production Team members included Janelle Rosko Jones (Stage Manager); Jim Wiggins, Pablo Gonzalez, and Eric Yarham (Lighting Design); Franklin Ritch (Projection Design); and Maya Adkins, Production Photography.
This is a well-acted and well-presented play, and the Karpeles provides a uniquely dramatic setting. Don’t miss it.