I fooled the fools again!
~ Henry Howard Holmes aka Herman Webster Mudgett and many other aliases
The difference between that of serial killer HH Holmes and his monstrous descendents,like Jeffery Dahmer, Theodore Kaczynski or John Wayne Gacy, was that Holmes was a more refined, well- mannered and likable man. He would be the original blue print for his many followers to look up to. Yes, he was sociopath, but, a charming one who was also a ladies’ man. He married three women simultaneously and got away with it, until he was hanged for murder in 1896. He was the epitome of male beauty: olive skin, tall, full head of hair and beard. The only thing out of place were his eyes. Cold. No feeling of compassion or empathy. That is the only thing he had in common with the other killers. He hid his murderous trait well.
The audience is introduced to Holmes (the very talented Eric Keitel) as he plays a mournful tune on his cello, while writing his intimate thoughts and secrets in a little back journal. He doesn’t notice, or care, about the two women behind him walking back and forth. Perhaps, they were his latest victims haunting him or a constant reminder on who he really is. Playwright John Strysik starts with Holmes’ first wife and love Clara Lovering (McKenzie Eckels does an excellent job). They met while he was still in medical school. He supported himself by committing insurance fraud by claiming cadavers as living people. Holmes first job is as a pharmacist in Chicago working for Elizabeth S. Holton (Jennifer Novak Chun has double duty as Holton and the cellist). The former druggist died mysteriously and soon the wife is dead too. She was a bit too nosy. He eventually bought the store and added on to it. He designed apartments for rent, a retail store and a pharmacy.
His next victim was his second wife Myrta Belknap (Nathalie Rudolph does a wonderful job), while still married to Clara. Oh? Wait! It gets better. He files a divorce from Clara claiming she been unfaithful to him. Nice guy, huh? Myrta catches him with another woman in his office. He claims that he was, ready for this, that he was only “examining her.” He convinces Myrta that she’s crazy and is seeing things. That’s not right.
Strysik’s vision of the macabre doctor is pretty much on point. Gallant and well-bred, persuasive and a smooth talker. We quickly forget about these wonderful qualities when he murders for profit and gain. His striking good looks suddenly become ugly and unbearable to watch. Director Jeff G. Rack has a gift in combining both the good and the disgusting into a tolerable amount easy to digest. Holmes is evil at its best. He hides his thirst for murder with a charming smile and lively personality.
It’s clear that Holmes loves women and sex—a lot. While being married with two different women, he has an affair with Julia, the wife of Ned Conner the watchmaker at Holmes’ drugstore. Ned isn’t stupid. He known about their month long affair. Holmes adds another woman to his ever growing harem, Emmeline. This time he used the name Robert Phelps. When she died, the sick bastard sold her skeleton, which showed evidence of a child, to medical schools. He managed to make his many wives sign over their property over to him, depending on which pseudonym he used, to obtain more power and wealth. He has these women on lock. They don’t breathe unless he says so. He concocts a successful insurance claim fraud from their deaths. Eventually, karma has a way of showing up at the most inappropriate time. Holmes is hanged nine days before his 35th birthday.
As horrid as the subject is, it’s a hell of a great story to tell, especially since Halloween is nearing by. Strysik is an excellent story teller. He gives you enough that you’ll tip over, but, will return to normalcy and Rack executes the playwright’s vision perfectly well.
Villainy plays only on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. until November 7th, at The Whitefire Theatre, located at 13500 Ventura Blvd at Sunnyslope Street in Sherman Oaks. Valet parking available (fee charged) at Augustine Wine Bar, ½ block east of the theater. For ticket information, reserve online at www.villainy.brownpapertickets.com or call 800-838-3006.