Favorite

Hooker Packing Heat: A True Story about Multiple Murders Shoots for Thematic Significance in Self Defense 

Americans, god bless 'em, have a passion for branding even the most horrific acts and the heinous people who do them. This is especially true with serial killers, who emerge from their assorted bloodbaths with nicknames such as Hillside Strangler (Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono) , Lady Killer (Ted Bundy), and Killer Clown (John Wayne Gacy).

If you detect a gender bias there, it's because the vast majority of repeat murderers are males. Except, that is, for the deadly woman whose exploits are examined, in a somewhat fictionalized manner, in Self Defense by Carson Kreitzer, now being produced by convergence-continuum.

Kreitzer's script is loaded with ambition, as it attempts to portray this troubled woman from a variety of perspectives, and the con-con players are often engaging and at times even compelling. But as seen in its final dress rehearsal, the play's fragmented structure combines with a lack of storytelling focus to fashion an experience notable more for its thematic aspirations than its theatrical engagement.

This playwright is evidently fascinated by real women who use violence since her first script, Valerie Shoots Andy, dealt with the failed assassination of Andy Warhol by Valerie Solanas. In this piece, Kreitzer pursues prostitute Aileen Wuornos, branded inevitably as the "First Female Serial Killer" for offing seven of her johns in several bloody months just over 25 years ago.

She was famously played in the movie by Charlize Theron, who won an Oscar for her portrayal. In this play, the Wuornos character is named Jolene Palmer, a woman who claims she was in the process of being raped and/or attacked by her clients when she shot them to death in self defense.

This claim touches on many hot-button issues, such as whether a hooker can claim rape and, more generally, the whole topic of women supposedly "asking for it" in a variety of ways.

The play attempts to deal with these different facets by employing a multitude of short scenes, some only a few seconds long, that flash back and forth in time. While conveying the shattered psyche of the principal woman and the crazy quilt of various opinions swirling about, the play's sometimes confusing non-linear format tends to keep the audience at arm's length.

As we learn more about Jolene's fractured life story and her love for her lesbian partner Lu, empathy begins to grow. And Jolene's blow-by-blow explanation of the situation surrounding one of her murders certainly establishes the clear possibility of a self-defense claim.

But Kreitzer tries to touch on so many viewpoints — including media, police, courts, religion, forensics, post-death angel intervention, and pole dancers — that the discussion often morphs from challenging to confounding.

Facing those structural hurdles, the cast under Geoffrey Hoffman's direction manages to maintain its balance. As Jolene, Laurel Hoffman is poignant, offensive and funny as she tries to explain her actions. But since the play never lingers long enough on her inner story, the excellent actor Hoffman isn't able to fully penetrate the surface of this tormented woman.

The same is even truer of the dependent yet conniving Lu, whom Elaine Feagler tries to invest with some depth in her short scenes.

Several of the performers handle multiple roles with panache. As a stripper, a reporter and others, Rachel Kolis delivers sharp character sketches. And Emily Pucell generates laughs as the starry-eyed fundamentalist who adopts incarcerated Jolene. Katie Atkinson and Wes Shofner also contribute deftly crafted moments.

However, one of the subplots involving two detectives named Bucket (Aaron Elersich) and Drums (Joe Dunn) never makes much sense, caught between a comical take on Starsky and Hutch types and some serious musings on the subject at hand.

Indeed, there is so much going on one never knows if the playwright thinks Jolene is a maniac, a victim or a rational woman trying to protect herself. And that uncertainty would by okay, if only the script with it's jokey subtitle did a better job making us care about the answer.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Calendar

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Staff Pick Events

  • Art and Stories from Mughal India @ Cleveland Museum of Art

    • Sun., July 31
  • BB Blues Bird Retrospective @ Cuyahoga County Public Library-Solon Branch

    • Wed., Aug. 3
  • MIX: Games @ Cleveland Museum of Art-Shaker Square

    • Fri., Aug. 5

Facebook Activity

© 2016 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 241-7550
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.


Website powered by Foundation