Truth is stranger than fiction. But don’t you fret, Baltimore, this one will be a real Lally-cooler, you’ll see. Once it figures out just what it wants to evolve to be. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind, right back to the 1890’s with America’s first serial killer. Enter Green Globe Theatre and their production of Devil In Me, a new work written and directed by Lianna von Haubritz. There is much happening in this intriguing theatrical endeavor, which earns it an investigatory glance for certain. The piece itself has much potential, and the mission behind Green Globe Theatre is always one worth supporting. But the evening’s entertainment, delectably dark though it may be, is not without its challenges, many of which accompany new works.
The facts, as they stand, H.H. Holmes (with a plethora of aliases otherwise) confessed to 27 murders. Nine were confirmed. He was only ever convicted of one. He was married to three different women; the marriages overlapped with one another. There were suspicions that he was responsible for nearly 100 deaths. Lianna von Haubritz states with great purpose that as the show’s playwright she intended confusion, but that doesn’t give any clearer a definitive placement on the work simply because its cited with a forewarning of “disjointed episodic trauma.” There are so many facets of H.H. Holmes— or the lives he impacted— that could have been focused on, but in this particular production the focuses become so convoluted that it’s more than the jarring confusion that an expressionistic piece generally tends to offer to the average theatergoing audience. That said, the show has great potential and could perhaps make for a fascinating thrilling piece of theatre if it narrowed its focus to one or two lenses rather than including all of the devices, constructs, and ideas that the playwright brought to the table.
What is readily experienced is A-quality acting from most of the players, particularly the lead— Glen von Haubritz in the role of H.H. Holmes— and from Reed Sigmond, playing Pitezel who weaves in and out of the semi-linear-non-conformist narrative of the show as a focal point. The sometimes chorus of ensemble performers, that often, albeit inconsistently, reads as a Greek chorus also add poignant moments to a great deal of the stage occurrences. One thing that Director-Playwright Lianna von Haubritz does exceedingly well is the initial encounter to the show’s macabre elements. Before the play gets underway, the audience is exposed to, in a voyeuristic fashion, a moment inside H.H. Holmes’ hotel of horrors, with a corpse, and a few moments of potential interaction from the grisly ghoul himself. This is a brilliant way to prime the audience for what they’re about to encounter.
Some of von Haubritz’ other theatrical devices are extremely well-received; the puppet-manipulation of a living human being during the seemingly unending trial scene (which rakes up a great deal of the show’s second act, making it a strange focal point, again dividing the attention of the audience to what’s really been happening all along) perfectly captures the insidious nature of H.H. Holmes. The puppeted induvial, played by Cory McCarrick, has precision movements like a dummy marionette hung on flawless strings. McCarrick gives a rousing rendition of a jailbird, Hedgepeth, and is one of the more memorable cameo characters that are encountered along the way. McCarrick also serves as the show’s SFX Designer and Properties master; the charred body alone is well worth attending to see his masterwork in all its glory.
From a technical and aesthetic standpoint, the show has a lot offer. Costume Designer Nicki Seibert and Assistant Costumer Zoe Di Giorgio outfit the cast in clear sweeps of Macabre, Americanized-Victorian garb. This gives a uniformity to the many wives of H.H. Holmes, as well as certain facelessness to the victims, which calls out to a larger thematic notion that all the victims looked the same to H.H. Holmes. Glen von Haubritz serves as the show’s set and technical designer, with scenic painting by Brenda Haupt; Hayden Muller adds a great series of moody effects with carefully constructing lighting plots. Ultimately the appearance and technical feel of the show is solid, even when the plot, characters, and thematic structure are somewhat muddled.
The ensemble (essentially everyone not H.H. Holmes, or the oddly crafted Frank Geyer, played by Bob Singer) should be praised for their ability to drift in and out of characters and chorus roles. Featuring Reed Sigmon, Brandi Elizabeth Brown, Chloe Scully, Emily McGee, Jackie Glenn, Cory McCarrick, and Marshall Gibbs, each finds a personalized connection to their point in this theatrical experiment. Bob Singer, who does imply the imposing presence of authority, struggles somewhat with his textual delivery, but this feels largely in part to the questionable existence of his character. There are times when H.H. Holmes addresses Frank outright— in a fourth-wall bashing style— insisting he move furniture into a scene, or having commentary with him that doesn’t quite gel with what’s currently happening, and yet there are other moments where Singer’s Frank appears blissfully unaware of Holmes, as if he is nothing more than a memory from a terrible case he once worked.
Ultimately feeling as if it is still in the evolutionary process, Devil In Me does have a fascinating subject matter and great team of creatives, both in the scenes and behind them, working together to create a different and new theatrical experience in Baltimore.
Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes with one intermission
Devil In Me plays through November 16, 2019 at Green Globe Theatre— in residence at Breath of God Lutheran Church— 141 S. Clinton Street in the heart of Highlandtown of Baltimore, MD. For tickets call (443) 963-9704 or purchase them online.