nytheatre.com review by Amy Lerner
September 21, 2007
Two teenagers fall so deeply in love that they would kill for one another in Love Kills, an emo musical written by Kyle Jarrow. The plot is based on true events that happened in 1957 and 1958, when Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate killed 11 people near Lincoln, Nebraska. According to the playbill, the musical "plays fast and loose with the facts," choosing to focus on theme rather than events. If Jarrow had explored the fascinating story with more depth, Love Kills might elicit more empathy and understanding about the characters; instead, I was left with only confusion.
The sexy score fits the sexy plot line, but unfortunately the lyrics don't help to further the plot. The story is told in flashback, as Sheriff Merle Karnopp and his wife Gertrude attempt to get confessions out of the two lovers after they are caught. If this way of exploring the motivation behind the murders is an attempt to reveal more about why they committed murder, it doesn't quite work. I found myself wanting to know more and more about why Charlie killed people (beyond impulse), but even more so why Caril supported him. When the sheriff's wife sings "she held his hand, I don't understand," I found myself thinking the same thing. Unfortunately, other than the explanation of "she loved him," that question is never answered. Neither is why she loved him in the first place, or why she continued to love him after knowing he was a murderer.
The actors sound great, especially Marisa Rhodes as Caril and Eli Schneider as Charlie. The older actors, John Hickok as Merle and Deidre O'Connell as Gertrude, didn't sound as inclined towards the style of music Jarrow composed.
Unfortunately, the performances are not up to the caliber of the singing. Schneider is adequately creepy as Charlie, and does a nice job showing the torment Charlie feels and his own fear of his impulse to kill. The other performances don't seem to go deep enough. Rhodes puts on a "little girl" voice to play Caril, making her seem younger than she is. She also seems to have trouble physically inhabiting the character, and it seemed that she couldn't sing without having one heel off of the ground and dancing to the music, which detracted from the dramatic purpose of the show.
Love Kills takes a nod from Spring Awakening, having the cast sing into handheld microphones when a song comes along. This is distracting, and takes away from the piece because it has no dramatic purpose. The show would have been much stronger had the songs come directly out of the scenes, instead of suddenly turning the show into a rock concert.
The set was also very poorly designed, as the show took place in Caril and Charlie's respective jail cells. Most of the scenes took place behind bars, and it could have been equally effective to turn the set around, so that the bars weren't blocking the actors. This also would have smoothed out the transitions into the flashbacks.
Love Kills would have answered more questions about the mystery of the two lovers if it had been told linearly, so that the audience could see the two meet, and Caril make each decision to follow Charlie as their relationship develops. Perhaps this would have been a clearer way to explore the characters rather than rehashing the plot in order to get the two to confess. There is also no tension in whether or not they committed the murder; the tension is in wondering why. Unfortunately, I am still wondering about the answer to that question.