Every family can go a little nuts, but even your wildest Thanksgiving dinner story can’t compare to the drama you will watch unfold over the Smith’s kitchen table.
On Thursday, The Palaver Tree Theater in Crawfordville, invited audiences into the spine-chilling yet darkly funny world of "Killer Joe," a genre-bending experience that defies definition. The play runs Sept. 23-24 and Sept. 30-Oct. 1.
Director Gary Brame’s vision and ambition have brought together a winning combination of talented local actors and dedicated crew members to transport audiences to a trailer park in Texas that they won’t soon forget.
Written by the incomparable Tracy Letts (the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright behind "August: Osage County"), "Killer Joe" follows Chris Smith as he struggles to weasel his way out of being in debt to a drug lord.
Chris and his father, Ansel, decide to employ the services of a cop named Joe Cooper who moonlights as a hitman to kill Chris’ alcoholic mother for her life insurance money. When the men cannot pay Joe upfront and he settles on Chris’ younger sister, Dottie, for his retainer, opposing forces clash as the show begins to hurtle toward an edge-of-your-seat finale.
An intricate and intimate set design plops the viewer right in the middle of the action that plays out in a fully furnished kitchen and living room.
From the empty cigarette cartons strewn about to the cluttered appliances on the counter to the soft quilt slung over the back of the couch, it almost feels like you have peeked in the window of your neighbor’s house and caught of glimpse of their daily life.
Clever lighting, sound, and prop design tug at other senses — the smell of ash after a smoke, the distant bark of a lonely dog, the wacky refrains of cartoons on the television— for an engaging authenticity.
Bringing such complex characters to life is no mean feat, but the cast of "Killer Joe" make it look easy.
Caleb Goodman plays a scrappy and, initially, self-interested Chris who hides a softer side. Dottie is portrayed by Jordan Marcum who delivers a sweetly enigmatic yet volatile performance, particularly in her interactions with Collin Johnson’s ruthless, machinating, but charismatic Joe.
Rounding out the cast, Herb Donaldson (the Artistic Director of Palaver Tree Theater) embodies the Smith patriarch, Ansel, with expert comedic timing and aplomb, while Lyndsey Woods takes on Ansel’s wife, Sharla, skillfully balancing the catty and the cunning.
A bloody examination of choices, consequences, autonomy and morality, "Killer Joe" is the black comedy/drama you didn’t know you needed. So come on down and see what’s cooking at the Smith’s…if you ain’t chicken.
NOTE: This play contains scenes of simulated smoking, strong language, violence, and intense sexuality. Not recommended for those under 16 years old.
If you go
What: "Killer Joe," by Tracy Letts
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 23, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sept. 24; 8 p.m. Sept. 30 and 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 1
Where: Palaver Tree Theater, 59 Shadeville Road, Crawfordville
Tickets: $15 for one or $25 for two can be purchased at the door before each performance or online at palavertreetheater.org. This show is general admission (no reserved seats).
Mandy Holley is a local actress who enjoys partaking in and reviewing theatre when her schedule and cat allow for it.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Palaver Tree Theater presents darkly funny 'Killer Joe'