By The Theatre Gay
Quentin Tarantino once said “Violence is one of the most fun things to watch.” Personally, I’d want to add sex, and family drama to that, but, hey, I didn’t direct Pulp Fiction. Thank god for plays like Killer Joe, written by Tracy Letts, which has all three. Nudie body parts, blood squirts, and plots to kill moms for insurance money. Also, praise little baby Jesus, it’s only 90 minutes- just enough time for our binge watching culture to take in all the gore, and high saturated fat that is Killer Joe.
SeeNoSun Theatre’s Killer Joe gives us a glimpse into blue collar contract killing. Chris Smith (Matthew Marcus) is on the run from a loan shark when he finds out about his mother’s hefty insurance policy. He convinces his father, Ansel (William Aitken), to hire Killer Joe (Sun King Davis) to take out the old lady. When the Smiths can’t pay the hitman’s retainer, however, Joe suggests an alternative form of payment. You see, Joe has taken a liking to Chris’ sister, Dottie (Jennifer Osborn). Joe agrees to do the job, as long as he can get ‘set up’ with Dottie. Pretty soon Joe sets up shop in the Smith trailer. But when Chris begins to have second thoughts on the job, things begin to spiral out of control, ending in a blood soaked fried chicken massacre that would make Tarantino squirm.
Even though the action focuses around Killer Joe, the women really steal the show. Jennifer Osborn is an actress we should all be watching. She switches from infantile sweetness to ‘redrum’ creepiness with ease and dexterity of a surgeon. Mallory Shear’s manipulative Sharla shows us that you don’t need to wear the pants to run the family, quite literally. Davis gives a solid performance as the insanely charismatic contract killer, and Aitken feels like he stepped right out of his own trailer park.
Killer Joe really holds up a mirror to our obsession with violence, and our quiet detachment from it. One of the few set pieces is a television that seems to be constantly on whenever Ansel is in the room. It sits in the corner as a doorway for the characters to escape through. Until they no longer can. During a particularly violent scene involving sexual violence and a fried chicken, Ansel attempts to drown it out by turning on the television, but is stopped by Joe. “Don’t turn on the television!” he shouts, and then forces him to watch reality. Killer Joe is wildly successful in making us re-examine the violence we are watching. Unfortunately, at times the fight choreography seemed a bit dangerous to the viewer. At one point, Aitken actually fell into the front row of the audience, causing more than a few audience members to cringe.
America has a problem with violence. Whether it be mass shootings, hate crimes, or the countless others who experience abuse at home, violence is leaving our televisions, and knocking at our front door. Through grotesque staged violence, Killer Joe reminds us that we cannot just sit and watch, but that we must do something to stem the flood of violence.