Prop Theatre

In 1990 the Prop Theatre produced a collection of monologues written from the point of view of several mass murderers/serial killers. Mass Murder proved that there’s a wealth of material in deranged slaughter and no shortage of audience enthusiasm for it. It played to packed houses for 15 weeks.

So it’s no surprise, though slightly sickening, to find its sequel, Mass Murder II, produced (again by the Prop) a mere four years later. Though one might suspect the Prop of capitalizing on a gruesome cash cow, the argument can be made that the last show barely scratched the surface. This time around we have a whole new crop of killers to contend with–as well as some grand old standbys overlooked in the last production.

There’s Erzebet Bathory, the 17th-century countess who bathed in the blood of 650 virgins and was the genesis of many a vampire legend. And Susan Atkins, one of Charlie Manson’s girls. And let’s not forget Lieutenant William Calley, who was sentenced to life in prison (reduced to 40 months of house arrest) for his part in the slaughter at My Lai. Add to these the latest nightmares, from Wisconsin (Jeffrey Dahmer) to Waco (David Koresh), and you have a comprehensive evening of ruminations on bloodshed that makes the throat go a little dry.

Director Keith Hackett’s staging is simple in the extreme, the lighting design (also by Hackett) lacks any real impact, and Dan Sutherland’s set is bare except for a few hanging window frames. The production relies mostly on the macabre nature of its subject matter to produce chills–and in that respect it is rather lazy theater. At the same time, most of the actors are excellent, and the monologues have been competently written by various Prop members.

As Susan Atkins, Maria Muller is a typically wild-eyed, upbeat Manson disciple, but even as her rants about “the piggies” fall flat, the details of those murders in 1969 still have the power to freeze the blood. John Cohen displays more understated finesse as Robert Hansen, who confessed to killing 21 female prostitutes. Likening each murder to a big game hunt, Hansen is puzzled as to “what all the fuss is about. They were just hookers, worthless.” Turnabout being fair play, we then have prostitute Aileen Wuornos (Maryellen Keevers) explaining that the men she murdered were johns who deserve no pity.

The media like to call Wuornos the first real female serial killer, but they are overlooking demure southern housewife Nanny Doss (Liz Emerick, charmingly childish in a large rocking chair) who offed ten husbands with the help of “Dr. Dan’s Rodent Powder” in the 1950s. She’s a far cry from that lethal Countess Bathory, who ultimately was sealed alive in her bedchamber in 1611. Played with Jacobean intensity by Sally Poppe, Bathory’s a character straight from a Hammer horror film, writhing in ecstasy as she relates various twisted doings that involve virgins, dogs, and Carpathian dwarfs. Her monologue yields my favorite quote of the evening, a barked command to an offstage servant–“I’ll expect a fresh beaker of blood from each of the virgins in the morning!”

Revoltingly funny and fascinating is R.D. Flavin’s depiction of a mild Jeffrey Dahmer, grumbling as he mops up after his latest victim. “I wish I could get you guys to clean up after yourselves,” he complains good-naturedly. This Dahmer is living up to all the crude jokes that society would soon conjure up about him, in order to protect itself from the enormity of his crimes.

Most effective of all, and indeed a possible justification for this evening of tabloid sensationalism, is Charles Glenn’s passionate portrayal of Colin Ferguson, the Jamaican who killed five passengers on an IRT train. Bitterly disillusioned with this American “paradise,” relating himself to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, he is impotent, well-spoken rage headed toward meltdown. “I know your minds,” he tells us. “I’ve lived in your world. You have never lived in mine.” Warning us of danger to come, this monologue (written by Glenn) sums up a possible source of our fascination with these killers. “It makes you wonder. Makes you want to see the invisible man.”