The Chilling Leopold And Loeb Case Resurfaces In “Never The Sinner” At New Jewish

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Jack Zanger as Leopold, Pete Winfrey as Loeb and John Flack as Clarence Darrow in “Never The Sinner” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

There is probably no more disturbing murder case in history than the infamous 1924 Leopold and Loeb case in Chicago. Two upwardly mobile young men who were becoming law students with very high I.Q.’s were obsessed with Neitzche’s theory that “supermen” existed who were so superior that he deemed them above the law. When they decided to play out their thoughts and commit the perfect crime, a series of bizarre events led the case to “trial of the century” status.

 

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Eric Dean White (center) as Robert Crowe questions a witness during the New Jewish Theatre production of “Never The Sinner.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

New Jewish Theatre is currently presenting “Never The Sinner” by John Logan and it explores the crime, the young men and the ensuing trial. As disturbing as the crime itself, Director Rick Dildine evokes horror on a massive level as these two young men laugh at their accusers and show disdain toward everyone who lacks their self imagined intellectual and moral superiority which includes, well, everyone. At the root is a love story not unlike Bonnie and Clyde as these two men are corrupt individually but once they meet, they not only fall in love, but create a force that society cannot reckon with nor accept.

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Pete Winfrey as Loeb and Jack Zanger as Leopold in “Never The Sinner” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Pete Winfrey as Richard Loeb and Jack Zanger as Nathan Leopold are stunning in their portrayal of these entitled gentlemen who lack any sense of morality. Although Leopold is a bit more skeptical of their plan to murder a young man in their neighborhood, he goes along with Loeb’s almost obsessive need to carry out the deed. This is where their plan goes awry as Leopold becomes sloppy in the execution and leaves behind his glasses which eventually- along with other evidence- leads to their downfall.

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John Reidy, Maggie Conroy and Will Bonfiglio in reporting mode at the New Jewish Theatre production of “Never The Sinner.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

John Flack is brilliant as defense lawyer Clarence Darrow. Getting a bit long in the tooth by 1924, he nonetheless has the wherewithal to devise a plan to escape execution for the pair. They have already all but confessed to the crime after so much evidence has been found so now Darrow is trying other tactics in an attempt to escape prosecution altogether. Clever but frustrated by Darrow’s tactics, Eric Dean White gives a solid performance as prosecutor Robert Crowe. Often incredulous, he must deal with the master manipulator in a trial that should have been open and shut.

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Jack Zanger as Leopold and Pete Winfrey as Loeb in “Never The Sinner” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

The supporting cast includes three folks playing multiple roles- mainly as reporters. Will Bonfiglio, Maggie Conroy and John Reidy deliver the goods and flesh out the story from several angles. As mentioned, Rick Dildine, Artistic and Executive Director of the wonderful Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, delivers an impactful story that brings out the utter audacity of these two friends.

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John Flack as Clarence Darrow tries to instruct his clients during a scene from “Never The Sinner” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Several years ago, Max & Louie Productions offered the musical- yes musical- version of the Leopold and Loeb case, “Thrill Me,” written by Stephen Dolginoff. As surprisingly effective and chilling as that was, “Never The Sinner” brings out even more of the cringe-worthy aspects of the case. Even a few very good laugh lines in the script elicit nervous chuckles instead of laughs because of the unbelievable impact of the story. The audience is too horrified to even laugh at an attempt at some comic relief.

Peter and Margery Spack have designed a powerful set that extends through the center of the theatre with audience seating on either side. It provides for multiple spaces that are heavily decorated at each end but provide a solid center space for movable pieces of furniture that again fit various scenes. Also included are a series of pictures and prints adorning the walls throughout that are highlighted throughout the production. They focus mainly on Leopold’s obsession with birds but also offer other insights into character and other aspects from the time of the trial. Maureen Berry’s lights also make statements including the use of when to highlight those multiple wall hangings. And Michelle Friedman Siler’s costumes spark the proper tone for the time period.

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John Flack, Pete Winfrey, Jack Zanger and Eric Dean White in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Never The Sinner.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

If you’re not familiar with the Leopold and Loeb case, this one may upset you a bit with the brash behavior of these two young men. It has a familiar ring- as do so many things in life these days- of what is going on in our world today. But what a play and what sterling performances from everyone involved. “Never The Sinner” plays at the New Jewish Theatre through April 2nd. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.

 

 

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