Review: Miss Murder by Blunt Force Drama
by Justin M. West
“I’m not an animal,” says Aileen Wuornos (Kelsey Vanderstine). Frantically, she wants us to understand her plight. She’s been convicted of brutally slaying seven men in less than a year and vents to us from death row, pacing and scanning the faces around her to make sure we’re paying attention.
“I’m not an animal,” she says. She lets that sink in before slumping into her seat with folded arms, shielding her body and turning her head offstage to implore to no one in particular: “Just kill me and get it over with.”
Our own imaginations fill the void of scenery upon the “stage” around her, which consists only of the chair in which she sits and a cluttering of knick-knacks on the shelf behind her.
“Justice ain’t a woman,” she declares. “Justice is a man… Like I could ever love a man after what they done to me.”
Wuornos soaks in the uncomfortable silence and waits for the shifting in seats to settle. Her next words betray no remorse, only anger and acceptance of her fate. “I know what I did. I would kill again. Just fucking kill me already.”
It’s a small taste of what’s to come, a series of monologues from some of the vilest women to have lived. Their stories are familiar to us, perhaps, but the accounting of such vicious and unfathomable wickedness - evil - from the mouths of the culpable is jarring. Their language is coarse, and their honesty is shocking.
Miss Murder, the debut outing from Austin’s Blunt Force Drama theatre company, isn’t pulling any punches. With forceful performances and a minimalistic presentation, it draws us into the minds of pure evil and given little avenue for escape from our feelings of discomfort.
Like Aileen before them, the murderous women (and one murderous man) show little remorse for their actions.
Mary Mallon (Amber Shantel Hales) wants us on her side - she really meant no harm, after all. “Why should I be punished” she asks us, wringing her hands. “I’m not a killer. I’m a victim.” And with Hales’ fantastic performance, stiff-bodied and resolute in an innocence she expresses with a spot-on Irish brogue, we can almost believe that. Almost… had Mallon not been responsible for spreading typhoid to 51 people over the course of her career. “I just wanted to cook.”
Lara Newcomer gives us the giggles herself as Nanny Doss, aka “The Giggling Granny.” At the end of her monologue, we pity the hell out of all the poor bastards whose paths inevitably ended when they crossed hers. But in her defense, “The Lord does not condone divorce.” How she spent the insurance money, we aren’t told.
After a musical interlude and a change of chairs, enter Amelia Dyer (Sue Jordan). In the show’s highlight performance, Jordan exudes pure malice and sociopathy. Jordan’s Dyer is sinister and terrifying. Pacing the stage and occasionally sipping from a bottle, she insists, “Not all those babies they found could have been mine.” Although, she does admit with a wry grin only barely hidden, “I used to love to watch them with the tape around their necks.”
Mark Gerchak closes the show by utterly losing his shit as Ed Gein, gripping the sides of his head and shouting in agony at the internal monologue of his overbearing mother. It’s her, of course, that drove him to turn that woman into the corpse upon the chair behind him. It’s her scolding him on the proper way to drain a body. He’s doing it wrong. And really there’s only one thing he can do to atone for it all…
Here is the show’s biggest misstep, really. Gerchak’s performance of a man losing his mind, driven to depravity by insanity (or was it the other way around), is deeply unsettling. To complement his performance, we hear his mother, Augusta (Haylie Navarre) shout at him, driving him further to the brink. Navarre is unfortunately miscast and could have used more direction, as her often humorous and always too-youthful-sounding dialog serves as more of a distraction than anything. What should inspire empathy or dread instead elicits laughter, and it works to distract rather than complement Gerchak’s performance.
Overall, Miss Murder is a solid first outing for Blunt Force, one that’s mostly positive but curiously hard to decipher thematically. At “curtain” one is left to wonder what the show is trying to say. The timing, given political and social movements of our time, is intriguing, as the core thesis of the show is hard to determine beyond saying, “Look, women can be evil, too!”
Miss Murder is an interesting concept, and not a terrible choice for a new theatre company looking to establish its identity. The script, not one of Blunt Force’s creation, was penned by writers out of Portland, OR. It will be quite interesting to see which works they choose next, especially if the texts end up being home grown.
All around, the show is worth your time. But be prepared to be set back in your seat a bit, as it’s not for the faint of heart.
June 21 - June 29, 2019
4704 E Cesar Chavez
Austin, TX, 78702
Performances will be June 21st, 22nd, 28th, and 29th, 2019 with 1 performance each Friday night and 2 performances each Saturday night (probably 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm with a short break between).
Tickets $14.64 onlne, via