BWW Review: THRIL ME: THE LEOPOLD & LOEB STORY, The Hope Theatre
The crimes perpetrated by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in 1920s-Chicago have gone on to become interwoven in popular culture and have generated a multitude of films, plays, and fiction.
They were barely 20 years old when they ensnared and murdered 14-year-old Bobby for no other gain but the thrill they'd get from killing a human being. They were sentenced for life plus 99 years but while the latter was attacked and killed in prison, Leopold was granted parole and released in 1958 - 33 years after being convicted.
Among the works stemmed from the horrific actions of these compelling personalities figures Stephen Dolginoff's 2005 Off-Broadway musical sensation Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story, which is being revived at The Hope Theatre by its artistic director Matthew Parker. The piece retells the spine-chilling story but largely focuses on their toxic emotional relationship.
Parker sets the scene in a sleuth's office, stripping the public of any compassion they may be led to feel and presents the couple as being wrapped up in a vicious circle made of obsession and worship. Bart Lambert and Jack Reitman are enthralling as the murderers, delivering sharp performances that reveal multi-layered psychological abuse.
They build complex personas and manage to fascinate the audience whilst keeping them on their toes, enticing levels of distrust and alarm. Reitman plays the sadistic and delusional Richard, who takes advantage of an initially weaker and subdued Nathan as the self-proclaimed Nietzschean superhero.
He latches onto Dolginoff's subtle hints at the character's family traumas, hiding his vulnerabilities and playing into his character's natural charisma to strengthen Nathan's subjugation. Ah his counterpart, Lambert balances Richard's opportunism with absolute devotion.
He takes his beloved's idealistic nature and juggles his doubts with the attraction and blind trust he feels for him, which results in a complicated relationship infused with abuse and cruelty. Parker teams up with designer Rachael Ryan again to host the actors, turning the Hope's black box into a wooden bureau to give a rich and earthy atmosphere to the shocking narrative.
Newspapers and photos are glued to the walls, a blood-tinted thread connects them across the ceiling to plot out the aftermath of their actions. It's safe to sat that this is another exquisite success for the director, who's set to leave The Hope Theatre after five years of leadership later in the year.