Sherman Oaks, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/1/18 – Director Jeff G. Rack’s Villainy begins with Henry Holmes (Eric Keitel) seated on stage in his prison cell making notes as a woman (Mrs. Holton played by Jennifer Novak Chun) plays cello nearby. The story is set in 1896 as Homes awaits his execution by hanging for his murderous crimes real or imagined. As the tale goes by this production: In 1893 a Devil roamed the White City at the Chicago World’s Fair. This was Herman Webster Mudgett, a medical doctor who went by the alias of Henry Howard Holmes, America’s First Serial Killer.
Jeff G. Rack’s set design is the bare essentials and makes for ease to move between the memories we’re about to experience of Holmes’ past relationships with woman he married, or promised to, and many of those he killed. He built a hotel in Chicago near the World Fair and designed it specifically to meet his sick needs to control, dominate and kill anyone that he felt he could use to get ahead financially – he wanted to be a millionaire. Some rooms that were built airtight, basements fitted with torture chambers and furnaces. He frequently sold his victims’ skeletons to the local medical school.
It is said that he murdered at least 27 men, women and children – or what he admitted to after William Randolph Hearst offered him a large sum of money to write his memoirs. This is where we first meet Holmes as he sits writing when one of his other identities, Herman Webster Mudgett (Tor Brown) playing a split Holmes and inquisitor, interrupts him in his cell – to go back in time and relive many murderous moments.
The costumes and setting place us in the 1800’s but for the most part, the actors’ inconsistency with both speech and variation between the multiple characters is confusing to follow and not up to par with those times. Although the space is used cleverly – Jeff. G. Rack is always good with his set design yet his actors frequently give the in-depth performance that this requires. The one actor who stands out in at achieving the he actually is different people is Tor Brown. The women exchange clothes but not mannerisms and remain the same for the most part. It muddies the tale that relies heavily on back-story and it loses us in the killer’s present state-of-mind – wherever that might be at any given moment.
Keitel’s Holmes is dressed the part but lacks the conman’s disarming charm of the psychosis involved with the presentation of what was a diabolical serial killer. His wooing of future wives, his fiancés and interaction with his good friend fall flat, as if he’s going through the movements and lines without connecting. We must believe it could happen to us if this play is to have an effect. The sound and lighting is good but at times a bit distracting as victims flee the stage in semi- darkness.
What lacks, as the audience, is experiencing the darkest recesses of what this man’s mind was. We’re told about how he feels – it’s demonstrated over and over but without a sense of truth or passion to move us. There are comedic moments that could come out more with clearer direction. Jeff. G. Rack’s direction overall is more pointedly about the choreography as opposed to getting his actors to display the array of emotions and distinction needed in all parts – no matter the size. More thought is put into clever design (all aspects) than in guiding his actors so that we may fall in love with them and feel their pain, frustrations or at times, joy.
Where’s the dashing but depraved and dastardly H. H. Holmes and company? It’s not a bad show – it’s just not a good or great one.
Runs at the Whitefire Theatre its last show on November 8, 13500 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, 91423
Cast: Eric Keitel (Henry Holmes), Tor Brown (Herman Webster Mudgett & Others), McKenzie Eckels (Clara Lovering & Others), Jennifer Novak Chun (Mrs Holton & Others), Nathalie Rudolph (Myrta Holmes & Others), Tanya Raisa (Georgiana Yoke Howard & Others).
Produced by – John Strysik & Michael Carroll
Composer/Sound Designer – Jay Woeful
Costume Designer – Shon LeBlanc
Set Designer – Jeff G. Rack
Graphic Design – Lee Moyer
Technical Director – Brandon Loeser
Cellist – Jennifer Novak Chun