OGDEN — Good Company Theatre offers a bold and daring season, with shows such as The Vagina Monologues, Appropriate, and The Nether. Thrill Me, music and lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff, appears in keeping with these shows that explore American themes. Based on the infamous killing of Bobby Franks, Thrill Me follows Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb as they explore violence, and ultimately murder. While the historical account of this harrowing crime is intriguing in a psychological aspect, this thriller musical falls short in most areas. With drab and tired writing, subpar musical numbers, and aimless directing, the whole thing was not very thrilling.
The musical is set in Chicago in the 1920’s, and the two wealthy, privileged boys attend the University of Chicago. They progressively become taken with the idea of being above the law and beyond its punishments. The two boys are said to have been exceptionally intellectual, particularly Nathan Leopard, who supposedly learned 15 languages (5 fluently) and had an IQ of 210. Richard Loeb was more obsessive with his ideas of crime, and crimes in conjunction with the philosophies of Nietzsche, focusing in on the notion of “supermen,” and how his intelligence absolves him of the standards and laws of normal men. Yet, the writing in this musical doesn’t reflect this staggering intelligence, and turns the historical event into a bored and tired cliché, in lyrics such as, “I want to kill my brother, John,” and, “the heart is a muscle I don’t understand.”
The Good Company theatre has an exceptional little space to work from. Walking up the stairs and entering the theatre space, there is certainly a feeling of excitement in the air. On first appearances the set and space, designed by Derek Williamson and constructed by Casy Allen, is intriguing and inviting, with off-kilter wooden slats, windows, levels, and blocks. Yet, sitting in the back of the audience, it was hard for me to see anything below the chest area of the actors, and when they sat down, kneeled down, or lay down, I lost everything. And while it was nice to have a live piano in the space (music directed by Nicholas Maughan), because I was closer to the piano, I lost a lot of the words, especially from Berlin Schlegel, who played Richard.
The directing (by Derek Williamson) started out in a promising direction with conventions such as the fire on the backdrop, and throwing a metal bucket towards the audience to signify throwing gasoline on the fire, but throughout the show the conventions fizzle out. In the middle of the show the actors spoke on the phone for a significant amount of time, and I began to be confused about the world of the play, and whether the actors were bound by their props or not. The lighting, designed by Taylor Knuth, started out in an interesting way, helping to delineate space and time, but at times the actors faces were in the shadows and the established ideas of lighting seemed to wane as the play progressed.
Not only does the writing of the play seem unmotivated, and rather broad considering the narrow and specific subject matter, the acting and directing felt unmotivated too. Although Nick Morris, who plays Nathan Leopold, is clear and well studied in his words and lyrics, he spends a lot of time looking down and I couldn’t see his eyes, especially during his musical numbers. And I could not believe that Morris would ever be involved in a crime, though I am not sure if this deficiency in the play was because of the writing or Morris’s portrayal. Moreover, the sexual tension of the script is shyly approached by the actors, so that this aspect and the master/slave binary was missing.
The set and the lighting are interesting, and had promise, but as is falls in on itself. And while I am excited by the space that this company has, along with its interesting season to come, this piece was not my cup of tea. Yet, if you are up for a retelling of this slice of history, and if you want to see it as a musical, you may enjoy the intimate setting that Good Company Theatre provides for Thrill Me.