The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
Phantom Killer

You ain't going to lose me, baby. And I'm going to keep a sharp eye, make sure nobody sneaks up on us. —Luke
Phantom Killer
Wrenn Schmidt as Jessie
(Photo: Kim T. Sharp)
As anyone who has read a short story by Flannery O'Connor or seen Deliverance can testify, there's dangerous territory south of the Mason Dixon line. People get stranded in the countryside, killers run loose, sexual predators attack young women and young men. All of this and more can be found in Phantom Killer, a new play by Jan Buttram, artistic director and founding member of The Abingdon Theatre Company.

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.

Phantom Killer By Jan Buttram
Directed by Jules Ochoa
Cast: Wrenn Schmidt (Jessie), Jon McCormick (Luke), Denny Bess (Randy)
Set Design: David B. Ogle
Costume Design: Kimberly Matela Lighting Design: Travis McHale
Sound Design: David Margolin Lawson
Fight Choreographer: Rick Sordelet
Running Time: 80 minutes
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex's Dorothy Strelsin Theatre 312 West 36th Street) 212-868-2055
From 1/22/10; opening 1/31/10; closing 2/14/10
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00pm; Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm; and Sundays at 2:00pm
Tickets: $25
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 28, 2010
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Phantom Killer
  • I disagree with the review of Phantom Killer
  • The review made me eager to see Phantom Killer
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

You can also contact us at Curtainup at Facebook , Curtainup at Twitter and at our Blog Annex
Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Playbill Broadway Yearbook


©Copyright 2010, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from