ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
The thriller, based on a real-life cold murder case in rural Texas, is directed by Jules Ochoa and features Jon McCormick as Luke, a petty thief and drifter; Wrenn Schmidt as Jessie, his new bride, a habitual liar who blends audacity and hope in her own special way; and Denny Bess as Randy, a Texas Ranger who delights in tormenting and bullying them.
It is a scorching hot night in 1946 (the back half of an ancient car in the woods sets the scene quite nicely). A serial killer is on the loose, but Luke and Jessie are so desperate to escape Jessie's mother's house they are willing to drive their stolen car into the woods for a few minutes peace. Their ultimate goal is take the car to New Orleans (or steal a new one for the trip), where they seem to think fortune awaits them.
When the Texas Ranger, a Mexican who has achieved some fame with his daring arrests, stops to question them, it is not at first apparent what he wants. He clearly does not believe Luke's story that he is a veteran who fought on Omaha Beach. Nor is he fooled by Luke's lame excuses for not having a driver's license or registration for the car. But what is the wily ranger after?
In many ways Phantom Killer is an excellent thriller. The plot twists will certainly keep many on the edge of their seat. Schmidt is outstanding as the poverty-stricken, badly aging woman who has been so abused, both mentally and physically, she no longer expects much in life and is willing to do just about anything to get whatever is within her grasp. But the play is undermined by a plodding beginning, repetition and a lack of depth.
Even the fine acting of Schmidt cannot bring her character out of the slough of caricature. What makes this piece of poor white trash any different from a score of others one sees onstage? Her scheming husband and the vicious ranger fare far worse.
Although Ochoa keeps the tension high, he moves the characters around the stage in such a way that they are sometimes not visible to sections of the audience. Admittedly, the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex's Dorothy Streslin Theatre's two sided stage poses many production problems. Nevertheless, a director must find some way to overcome these issues.
But the biggest problem is that while in stories like O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find or James Dickey's Deliverance, the ultimate issue is no less than personal redemption; in Phantom Killer it's merely who is going to get killed or raped and how long is it going to take.