One of the reasons I joined BITR Sisters was to get the opportunity to see different kinds of plays at as many different theaters as I could. Whether it was a big Equity house or a small budget theater in a rowhouse, it didn’t matter. I wanted to see unique theater in the city of my birth and say my two cents about it. Don’t hate, participate. In this particular review, I ventured to a small gymnasium of a Highlandtown church to see the production of Devil In Me at Green Globe Theatre.
From the Green Globe website I read that Devil In Me is an original tale written and directed (and sound designed) by Green Globe Theatre founder/Artistic Director Lianna von Haubritz about the life of H.H. Holmes (Glen von Haubritz), America’s first serial killer. He basically killed people, made their bodies look like an accident, presented himself as their relative, and then took the deceased’s life insurance policy. So a murderer and a thief. Damn son! Investigator Frank Geyer (Bob Singer) guided the audience through the story as the narrator. The ensemble (Brandi Elizabeth Brown, Marshall Gibbs, Reed Sigmon, Jackie Glenn, Cory McCarrick, Emily McGee, and Chloe Scully) served as a bevy of characters and as a Greek chorus reacting to what they witnessed.
The actors did an admirable job in this production. Glen von Haubritz played H.H. Holmes as a charismatic, sly fox. He dove into the role with energy and malevolence. I especially enjoyed when he spoke directly to the audience as if we were part of his psyche. Bob Singer (Detective Frank Geyer) had a lovely deep voice that resonated throughout the theater space with authority and heart. The monologue he performed in Act 2 was the perfect mix of emotion and professional restraint. Nice work! The highlight of the show was the ensemble of Brandi Elizabeth Brown, Marshall Gibbs, Reed Sigmon, Jackie Glenn, Cory McCarrick, Emily McGee, and Chloe Scully. Not only did they play multiple characters, but they were also served as the ever present Greek chorus reacting to the vicissitudes of H.H. Holmes and performed foley-like sound effects with a microphone. Special shout out to Brandi Elizabeth Brown and Reed Sigmon for their standout individual performances.
Although the actors kept the action of the play going, my main concerns with the production were with the technical aspects and the script. Overall technical direction by Pat Youells was hit or miss. Set Designer Glen von Haubritz created a set with rotating flats decorated as walls to denote a home, courtroom, or exterior. I thought this was a creative and green use of space. However, I was confused by the lack of props. There was a lot of pantaomining that was unnecessary and distracting. Why not use actual props? Black victorian costumes for the ensemble and period appropriate garb for the Detective and Mr. Holmes were carefully selected and fitted by costume designers Nicki Seibert and Zoë DiGiorgio. Phil Vannoorbeeck kept the fight scene and overall “killer” moves tight and right as the Fight Choreographer. Lighting Design by Hayden Muller was a little lackluster. The lights used a minimal color scheme (red, blue or white) and the lights were either on or off. There was limited nuance or intensity except for the down lit dramatic scenes in Act 2, which were nicely done. In addition, there were numerous scene changes and the lights turned off during each change. The scenes were short and the constant changing of the lights took me out of the action. I was literally turned off every time the lights were.
My favorite technical element was the sound design by Lianna von Haubritz. The musical interludes during the scene changes, although numerous, were highly entertaining and set the mood using soul, Doowop and lounge music. It might not have been 1800s period music, but as a music superfan I dug it.
I applaud the playwright Lianna von Haubritz for using Frank Geyer’s memoirs, H.H. Holmes’ diaries, and real court testimony to craft an original play. Writing a play with historical source material is tough. Hell, writing any kind of play is hard ya’ll. I really enjoyed the use of the Ensemble. They highlighted the action to perfection and brought much needed levity to the script. It was also very engaging as an audience member to follow Detective Geyer’s investigation in parallel with the horrible actions of H.H. Holmes and his presence was an extremely creative storytelling device. What the play had in daring play structure, it lacked in character development and emotion. During the play I didn’t feel anything for any of the characters. The actors did a good job at displaying emotion, but the words lacked depth. The dialogue was very witty with some really good lines woven throughout; however, the overall plot felt very procedural. I wish there was a little more care taken to tease out deeper, more visceral emotions. The Greek chorus ensemble breathed necessary life into the play but the play was missing its soul. It was like watching a documentary of a killer with the intensity turned down. I didn’t understand the motivations of any of the characters nor did I care. Add in the multiple scene changes and the rhythm of the play was disjointed and never gained its momentum. I think all of the elements of an interesting and engaging piece were there, they just need to be pulled and twisted out a bit more. I wanted to be fully engaged in the production and although there were sparks, the fire in my heart never fully lit. Maybe I’m cold and dead inside like one of H.H.’s victims. Being an honest bitch has its downfalls.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? I will split the decision and say it depends. I always tell people that they need to support original works done by local playwrights. If you are the kind of person who feels the same way I do, go see this show. Feedback is a gift when presented correctly and playwrights deserve an informed opinion about their work. It’s how they grow. The use of the ensemble was well directed and written to amplify the intense moments. The story was entertaining with sparks of wit. If true crimes are your deal, than Devil in Me will wet your whistle. The story was written in a unique way to display the life of America’s first serial killer. However, the play was not without its faults. The chopping nature of the tech, distant dialogue, and uneven movement of the story may leave some audience members unfulfilled. Lastly, note to the wise but the Devil in Me has mature themes and imagery about death that may be disturbing or triggering to some audience members. The Devil in Me is an ambitious piece of original art that is a welcome addition to the DIY Charm City theatre scene. (Z)
Running time: 95 mins with a 15 min intermission. Advisory: Depictions of violence, gore, death and simulated hanging. Now playing until Nov 16th.