“Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story”
Watching the interplay between the characters Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in the Weekend Theater’s “Never the Sinner” reminded us of another murderous pair. It’s too bad Clarence Darrow wasn’t around in the 1960s to defend heinous killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickok after they slaughtered the Clutter farm family in 1959, then swung at the end of a rope a few years later in the Kansas State Pen. Truman Capote captured it on paper in “In Cold Blood.”
A 19-year-old Leopold and 18-year-old Loeb, a couple of spoiled rich brats in Chicago in 1924 who thought they were above all, went out and kidnapped and brutally killed 14-year-old Bobby Franks, simply because they could. They did it with as much remorse as someone might show in squishing a cockroach. Though intelligent in a book sense, with Leopold even a bird-watching nerd, they botched enough of the crime to be quickly caught and soon confessed. They smirked at the media, ate up the attention, and laughed it up in court. Darrow, a friend of the Loeb family and who at times wondered why he had taken the no-win case, even changed their initial plea from innocent to guilty so as to get a sentencing by a judge rather than trial and certain death sentencing by jury. He was to give the courtroom summation of his life, it’s said, pleading for mercy “for these boys,” as actor Alan Douglas drawls out in a restrained and strong performance as Darrow.
This Weekend Theater show is mostly a showcase for a talented brother team of actors, Jason and Gabey Smoller as Leopold and Loeb. Jason, who’s headed to Brown University after he graduates from Little Rock Central in May, plays Leopold. Gabey is a 10th-grader. Gabey conveys a Crispin Glover-type of snarling deceit, while Jason is more De Caprio-esque in style and appearance. From all accounts and as the play suggests, Leopold and Loeb’s friendship grew into a homosexual bond, where Loeb was willing to trade sexual favors in exchange for Leopold’s help in petty criminal activities that grew into the plan to kidnap and kill another rich kid.
Like “In Cold Blood’s” Smith and Hickok, or what has been deduced about Bonnie and Clyde, psychiatrists who studied the boys said that separately these people would have led more normal lives but their pairing created a murderous situation.
The play also serves as a statement against capital punishment. As vile as we may find these characters, we’re asked: Should we take their life in the way they took another? Have they nothing to offer even the prison society? The play and the postscript talk-back session led by the Arkansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty answers that. We’ll not spoil it.
Supporting actors are creditable, and outside of Douglas’ oratory as Darrow (he probably could have been dressed to look closer to Darrow’s 67 years) that breaks some second-act monotony, it’s the Smollers’ show. The Smollers certainly prove they are talents to watch in the coming years if they choose to further their acting careers professionally. If they continue only to grace our amateur stage, we’ll be the fortunate ones.
“Never the Sinner” wraps up its run Friday and Saturday, April 8-9, at 8 p.m.
— By Jim Harris