The Lynching of Leo Frank | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Lynching of Leo Frank

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The Lynching Of Leo Frank, Pegasus Players. The gruesome case of Leo Frank is so fraught with political and social import that it would be hard to imagine any sort of dramatic treatment being dull. Nevertheless Robert Myers comes perilously close in his dutifully researched but leaden play. Here the 1915 lynching in Atlanta of a Jewish factory owner convicted of murdering a 14-year-old girl is less a defining moment in black-Jewish relations than it is a curious historical footnote.

The case has particularly intrigued writers like David Mamet and Alfred Uhry because Frank, who was well educated, was found guilty largely on the basis of unconvincing testimony from a poorly educated African-American with an extensive police record; meanwhile crowds outside the courtroom chanted "Hang the Jew." Myers keeps a reporter's distance from his subject, making Frank's innocence more probable than certain. But his journalistic approach fosters objectivity at the expense of character development: at best his characters are ciphers, at worst stereotypes. Even the emotionally charged moments between the convicted Frank and his suffering wife feel like laboriously rehearsed trial testimony.

Jonathan Wilson's staging for Pegasus Players is economically designed and crisply acted in the manner of a Sunday-school performance, emphasizing pristine stage pictures and impeccable diction. But without the human aspect, this grim and frightening tale is less involving than a trial transcript or well-reported news story.

--Adam Langer

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