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Never the Sinner

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Never the Sinner, Victory Gardens Theater.

Ten years after its premiere at Stormfield Theatre, John Logan's behind-the-bars look at boy killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb remains a tautly provocative if divided thriller. Logan is equally effective at probing the twisted dependency between the two would-be supermen and at showcasing the enduring arguments of defense counsel Clarence Darrow, but he never quite fuses the two. Leopold and Loeb seem to exist in one play, and Darrow in another.

Logan finds the truth more lurid than the sensationalism of 1924's "crime of the century." Posturing as superior beings to whom the rules do not apply, these rich, precocious teens killed 14-year-old Bobbie Franks "for the experience." They were also compulsive lovers, the amoral and bisexual Loeb easily manipulating the insecure Leopold. But Logan splits his focus between these emotionally stunted elitists and the defense by Darrow, who pleads not so much for these broken boys as against the barbarity of the gallows.

As in his 1985 staging, Terry McCabe in this Victory Gardens season opener fuses the play's fragments into a kinetic look at the corruption of innocents and the courage of the defender they hardly deserve. Like Brian Stillwell before him, David New plays the loathsome Loeb with a cunning mix of arrogance and emptiness; and Jon Mozes, like his predecessor Denis O'Hare, is poignant as his dazzled disciple. Craig Spidle tackles the prosecution with dogged intrepidity, while Victory Gardens artistic director Dennis Zacek begins softly as Darrow but becomes a tower of reason.

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