Regional Theatre: Spooky “Villainy” at The Whitefire Theatre

Eric Keitel (l.), Tor Brown in Villainy.

It seems like the American culture has had a long standing love affair with serial killers and  Dr. H. H. Holmes is probably the one to blame, since he has been  branded America’s first known serial killer. Paving the way for Cinema monsters like Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter who manage to horrify us as well as fascinate us. Under the direction of Jeff Rack we are ushered into the dark underworld of H. H. Holmes, circa Chicago, 1896.

Villainy, as defined by Mr. Webster, is a noun meaning wicked or criminal behavior. This timely pre-Halloween play, written by John Strysik, depicts the life of the first known serial killer of the 18th Century. The main character, Herman Webster Mudgett went by the alias, H.H. Holmes as a sick homage to fictional character Sherlock Holmes.

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Jennifer Novak Chun (l.), Nathalie Rudolph, Eric Keitel, Tanya Raisa, McKenzie Eckels

The story begins with our murderer sitting in his prison cell writing a letter describing his horrible crimes. To the side of the stage, a woman cellist (Jennifer Novak Chun) plays several haunting and at times even morbid melodies that echo the desperate cries from his former victims.

The play tells the story in multi-dimensional layers. We see his relationships with women — some conned, some killed, and we see his sociopathic talents — offering body parts of his victims to unsuspecting medical schools. Dr. Holmes is a charming womanizer with an insatiable appetite for money, sex and murder. Through several marriages to wealthy women he leaves a trail of bodies, selling their skeletons to several medical schools. Eric Keitel is very convincing as the villain with an almost hypnotic power over women and zero level of remorse. When captured, Holmes penned a pamphlet pleading his innocence, but quickly changed his tune when William Randolph Hearst offered a small fortune for the true story. Holmes then wrote a lurid account of murdering men, women and children in a Hotel he built for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Tor Brown steals the show playing an array of different characters, including Dr. Holmes’s conscience, showing incredible versatility on an almost bare stage. Through several short flashbacks we are allowed a small glimpse into the lives of the murdered women without really getting to know any of them very well. Costume designer, Shon LeBlanc and set designer, Rack, create authenticity for this period piece with amazing attention to detail.

— Victor Riobo / Dale Nieli

VILLAINY at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks CA. 91423 runs through November 7th. Admission: $25. Reservations: 800-838-3006