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Relationships Can Be Murder

By Gary Wien

originally published: 11/21/2015

Relationships  Can Be Murder

In 1924, two wealthy, intelligent college students kidnapped and murdered a teenager in Chicago.  The crime and its trial (led by famous defense attorney, Clarence Darrow) captivated the nation’s attention.  Nathan Freudenthal Leopold, Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb were the two behind the murder, which was the O.J. Simpson trial of its time.  Their ‘complicated’ relationship is explored in the musical Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story, which has its New Jersey premiere at Luna Stage in December.

Thrill Me takes the audience inside the minds’ of the two 19 year old boys.  The play focuses less on the crime and the trial of the century and more on the friendship (platonic and sexual) of Leopold and Loeb.   Portraying the duo is Joseph Bigelow and Dean Linnard, both making their Luna Stage debuts.  The production is directed by Luna Stage artistic director Cheryl Katz with musical direction by Andy Peterson.  And music is vitally important to the play.  A piano player performs live and with much of the play sung, there is music almost throughout.

“Nobody ever understood the purpose of the crime,” explained Katz.  “Nobody understood why two boys that had everything going for them would do such a random act of violence for no apparent reason.  Thrill Me explores that question from a hypothetical standpoint.  Nobody knows what these two men said to each other in private, so the play puts forth a hypothesis of why they did this crime.”

The two-character play was nominated for a Drama Desk award for Best Musical and has since been translated into 10 languages with over 100 productions in 15 countries. Notable stagings include Los Angeles, Chicago, London’s West End and current long-running versions all across Asia.  The Luna Stage production will be the first time the play has been produced professionally in the New York region since its Off-Broadway premiere in 2005.

Katz attended New York University with Thrill Me’s playwright, Stephen Dolginoff, and has known about the play from early on in its development.  She said she was fascinated by the story and loved its music.  The play had been on her radar for quite a while and this season seemed like the perfect fit.



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“I love historically based fiction,” said Katz.  “It’s one of my favorite types of writing to work on.  This is a play about obsession and I think we’re all attracted to obsession at some level.  I personally have a dark side and I think I’m always attracted to materials that explore the dark side, which many of us have.  We keep our dark sides intact and live normal, moral lives, but it’s fascinating to temporarily inhabit people who don’t.”

Many historians have suggested that Leopold and Leob were heavily influenced by the works of Nietzsche; the concept of being ‘supermen’ whose intellect made them unaccountable to normal morality and laws.  The pair were also fans of the detective novels of the day.  So much so that the ransom note they wrote is thought to be lifted from one of the novels they had read.  Loeb was obsessed with crime and wanted to commit the perfect crime just to prove it could be done.   Leopold was obsessed with Loeb and is thought to have gone along with the plan so their friendship would continue.

Defense attorney Darrow described their relationship as “weird and almost impossible,” suggesting that the friendship itself helped the two commit a crime they were almost incapable of doing on their own.  They were called thrill seekers. They wanted to experience what it was like to take someone’s life away.

“Their story took place in the 20s when organized crime was running rampant,” said Katz.  “The moral fiber that had been thought to hold society together was crumbling and people were giving into their hedonistic tendencies.  I think any time that happens in our country, there’s always a backlash — a pull against the drive towards hedonism.  This was like the perfect storm, a moment in time for the country and the culture to react to a crime that was void of any moral sensibility.”

As Katz notes, random acts of violence happen far too often in today’s world.  A crime like Leopold and Loeb’s might only have lasted until the next murder came across the news cycle.   But maybe it would have rose above the fray.  The crime had everything — highly intelligent teenagers from wealthy families, thrill seeking, a homosexual love affair, and the idea that the perfect crime was possible.  The more you learn about the pair, the more you wonder if they didn’t succeed.  Perhaps a part of them wanted to be caught after all.  To show that the perfect crime does not go unnoticed.  Maybe they were smarter than we think.

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story

December 3-20

Luna Stage (555 Valley Road, West Orange, NJ)

Photo by Christopher Drukker.





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The Lord Stirling Theater Company Presents "Treasure Island"
(BASKING RIDGE, NJ) -- The Lord Stirling Theater Company will present Treasure Island in the English Barn Theater at the Farmstead Arts Center October 5-7 and October 12-14. Adapted for the stage by award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You) from the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island follows the adventures of a boy named Jim Hawkins who comes into possession of a treasure map.
Premiere Stages to Present World Premiere of Liberty Live Commission "Black Tom Island"
(UNION, NJ) -- Premiere Stages at Kean University will present Martin Casella’s Black Tom Island from October 11-21 at Liberty Hall Museum (1003 Morris Avenue, Union, N.J.). Originally commissioned over a two-year cycle through Premiere’s Liberty Live Commission, Black Tom Island will feature actors Damian Buzzerio, Mason Hensley, Jenna Krasowski and Bart Shatto. Producing artistic director John J. Wooten directs.
American Poetry Theater Presents "Gun Love"
(LONG BRANCH, NJ) -- The American Poetry Theater presents Gun Love from October 5-7.  The play, written by cast and community members, runs about one hour and is a collection of monologues and a skit dealing with gun violence in America.  
Seuls en Scene 2018 Runs This Week At Lewis Center For The Arts
(PRINCETON, NJ) -- Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, Department of French and Italian, and L’Avant-Scène will present the seventh annual Seuls en ScèneFrench Theater Festival, which will take place from September 21 to 29 at venues across the University’s campus. Most performances will be in French with English subtitles; all are free and open to the public.
Smugbug Productions presents The Eleventh Hour! at The Raritan River Festival
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The Eleventh Hour!'s Chris Pasi with composer David Seamon for a night of acoustic renditions of songs from the rock musical comedy at the Raritan River Festival at Boyd Park in New Brunswick, NJ on Sunday, September 30 at 1:00pm. 


Two River Theater Presents The World Premiere of "Pamela's First Musical"
If anyone ever doubts that New Jersey is home to great theatre, just point them to the world premiere of “Pamela’s First Musical” at Two River Theater. The cast and creative behind this show by Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang includes a combined total of more than 25 Tony Award nominations and seven wins. It’s a cast that would look impressive at any theatre – Broadway  or otherwise. According to one of the stars, the opportunity to work with the 10-time Tony Award nominee director/choreographer Graciela Daniele and to be part of a new musical was too good to pass up.
The Jersey Devil on stage: An interview with playwright Brandon Monokian
Up-and-coming New Jersey native Brandon Monokian has worked as an actor, writer, director, producer, and popcorn sample distributor. He wrote and starred in the film Happy Yummy Chicken and co-founded the production company Love Drunk Life with Katie Frazer. Together they have produced plays, films, books, and, to support their creative work financially, a product line: lovedrunklife.com. Monokian received national attention through Revolutionary Readings (his TEDx talk at Princeton Library), which was used to fight the banning of the book Revolutionary Voices from two New Jersey libraries. 
An Interview With Nicole Pandolfo
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Ritz Opens Season With "Incorruptible"
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Event calendar
Friday, Sep 21, 2018


MUSIC

Talib Kweli @ Asbury Lanes, Asbury Park - 9:00pm


JESSIE’S GIRL @ The Wellmont Theater, Montclair - 8:00pm

Bill Staines at the Minstrel @ Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, , Morristown - 7:30pm

FELIX CAVALIERE AND GENE CORNISH’S RASCALS @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm

MICHAEL MCDONALD @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm

Up Close & Personal 2 with "Them Lean On Me Boys"...RIFF @ Hamilton Stage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm

The Marshall Tucker Band with special guest The Outlaws @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 7:30pm

The Jeff Jensen Band @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Souvenir @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 8:00pm

East Lynne Theater Company presents SILENT SKY @ First Presbyterian Church (Cape May), Cape May - 8:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

Incorruptible @ Ritz Theatre Company, Haddon Township - 8:00pm

West End Festival of the Arts- Theatre Brut Session 1 @ West End Arts Center, Long Branch - 8:00pm

OPEN auditions for Sondheim on Sondheim @ Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, Maplewood - 7:00pm

Evita @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 8:00pm

Seuls en Scene French Theater Festival - "Harlem Quartet" @ Class of 1970 Theatre, Whitman College , Princeton - 7:00pm

Seuls en Scene French Theater Festival - "Portrait de Ludmilla en Nina Simone " @ Class of 1970 Theatre, Whitman College, Princeton - 9:00pm

HUMAN ERROR by Eric Pfeffinger @ West Windsor Arts Center, Princeton Junction - 8:00pm


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Brick City @ Premiere Stages at Kean University, Union - 8:00pm


COMEDY

Big Apple Comedy Club @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 8:00pm


FILM

Monty Python and the Holy Grail Quote-A-Long @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 7:00pm

New Jersey Film Festival @ Voorhees Hall #105, New Brunswick - 7:00pm


LECTURE

AN EVENING WITH DR. SANJAY GUPTA, MD @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 7:30pm

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