Profiles Performance Ensemble

at Red Bones Theatre

Because I can’t stand voyeuristic, insipid cop docu-dramas and sensational newscasts, I approach any crime drama “based on a true story” with suspicion. Profiles Performance Ensemble’s Minor Demons, about a 16-year-old boy who molested a 13-year-old girl and then buried her alive, certainly has its share of grisly details, but it would be unfair to classify it with other, sensational true-life dramas.

Playwright Bruce Graham paints Kenny, the teenage murderer, as a shy boy who was bullied at school, laughed at by girls, and encouraged by his father to fight back. Though the boy’s history might explain his choice of victim, Graham doesn’t waste much time trying to link such common high school traumas with Kenny’s extraordinary brutality and confused morality. Instead he centers his story around the more palpable “minor demons” of two men involved on opposite sides of the murder case, asking more of us than simply being frightened by a real-life bogeyman.

Defense attorney Deke Winters and police chief Vince Delgatto are lifelong friends who lock horns when Deke discovers the legal loophole that could set Kenny free: Vince neglected to read Kenny his rights before he confessed. But Graham does more than pose the often-asked ethical question, Do we protect the rights of the accused at the expense of public safety? Instead he draws us into Deke’s struggle to prove his loyalty to Vince while maintaining his professional integrity, thereby bringing the ethical question down to a personal level that involves us emotionally and intellectually.

Kenny is a disturbing figure precisely because he remains so mysterious. Outwardly soft-spoken and gentle, he seems unaware of his cruel capabilities. Guilt is far from an issue for him: he describes the murder unabashedly, cheerfully recounting how he lured the girl to an empty construction site. Chillingly, his only remorse is for destroying property, not for mutilating the girl and toppling bricks on her.

We can’t comprehend the “demons” that drive Kenny to murder, Graham suggests, but we can relate to the ghosts that haunt Deke, who’s recovering from a drug addiction that destroyed his big-city career, alienated him from his family, and caused him to move back to his little hometown. Even Vince, who is surrounded by family and respected as the town’s police chief, has to fight his own psychological battles. A killer may go free and his career may be ruined because of his mistake. Even more overwhelming is the knowledge that the victim might have been found alive if Vince had given the crime scene more than a cursory patrol initially. In Vince’s eloquently succinct words, “Being the town asshole doesn’t compare.”

Certainly, too many bad things happen to good people for Minor Demons to be believable. But at the base of this melodrama is a timeless theme: the healing powers and limitations of friendship.

Profiles artistic director Joe Jahraus and company member Darrell Christopher have the rapport necessary to play childhood buddies Vince and Deke, but director Kay Martinovich should reign in their tendency to play to extremes. The two wrestle and exchange noogies in a way I’ve never seen grown men do. Jahraus lives up to Vince’s complexities in most ways but nearly slips into caricature with an excess of deses and doses to prove Vince is just a regular guy. Christopher takes the “fallen man” bit too far: he’s hunched over and grunts as much as he speaks. He’s almost a cartoon figure, perpetually wearing the same suit and red tie, always with his lawyer’s briefcase nearby.

In contrast, C.J. Bacino is nicely restrained as Kenny. He gives the adolescent killer an unexpected and unsettling calmness and boyish enthusiasm. As Deke’s colleague Diane, Kerry Richlan also plays refreshingly against stereotype. Though she’s first introduced to us as a “prick”–an unfeeling lawyer who defended the rapist of an 84-year-old woman–Richlan gives Diane a warmth not often invested in fictional career women.

By using overlapping sets Martinovich cuts down on scene changes, which would have hindered the pace of this conflict-packed play. A couch, table, desk, and bed thinly spread over three levels on the small stage represent Vince’s home, the lawyer’s office, the police station, and Kenny’s room. But given the overlapping scenes–as when Kenny begins a monologue on the top level while players finish a scene on the bottom level–the cast should have had tighter direction. Rather than flow together, one scene seems to interrupt the other.

Kathy Fabian’s frugal set actually heightens the play’s mood. On the back wall, chalky white lines merely imply a farmhouse and picket fence. These impressionistic images and the sparse set echo the barrenness of the season–the play’s set in winter–and emphasize the bleakness of the situation.

No doubt Minor Demons is a titillating story, but it’s told more for the value of its character portraits than for shock value. And though the cast lack polish, they have no trouble reminding us that the minor demons haunting Deke and Vince have threatened all of us at one time or another.