Killer Joe is a killer show! I only regret not being able to see this show until I'd returned from my vacation, effectively eliminating my chance to laud the show properly in order to drive an audience to it. My sincerest apologies, because I'm a fan of playwright Tracy Letts, and, not having seen this show before, I was unprepared for its sheer rawness. It's a hilarious pulpy send-up on the classic idea of hiring a hitman to off someone in order to benefit monetarily from the situation, and the St. Louis Actors' Studio have outdone themselves with an excellent rendering of this early work. The direction and acting of the entire ensemble is fearless and superb.
Chris Smith is given the idea to off his wicked stepmother by her boyfriend, who says that Chris's sister, Dottie, will the beneficiary of a large cash award if just takes care of one little detail. Naturally, he tells his dad, a lout of a human being named Ansel, who pays more attention to his decrepit television set or a handy beer, than he does anything else. He goes along with the plan and they contact Joe Cooper, an officer of the law also known as “Killer Joe” for his work on the side. But, this being a pure white trash, trailer park family, they don't have the upfront fee required for Joe's services. He decides to take Dottie, Chris's damaged sister (her mother tried to smother her, but she survived), as a retainer. As these things go, nothing goes right for the Smith family in this scenario, at least for everyone but Dottie, but why spoil it?
James Slover is solid as Chris Smith, his lack of intelligence is only exceeded by his desire to score big so he can avoid the wrath of a local thug that he's in debt to. Missy Miller makes an early impression wearing nothing but a t-shirt that doesn't manage to cover her up very well. The mood is set instantly that this is white trash America on display. Larry Dell is also good as Ansel, the patriarch of this fractured family. But, they're all in support of Jason Cannon, as the coolly detached and sexually adventurous, “Killer” Joe Cooper, and Rachel Fenton giving an amazing performance as Dottie. As an ensemble, they're without peer here.
Milton Zoth mines this comedically rich material for all he can, but he also manages to capture the unique relationship between Joe and Dottie, that's really the core of this play. Patrick Huber's set and lighting is impeccable. Huber has created a trailer that's just begging to be trashed, and he lights it properly atmospherically, depending on the mood of the scene. Robin Weatherall's sound design also contributes nicely. Teresa Doggett's costume design is a far cry from her usual period piece work, but she perfectly dresses this cast so that they seem realistic and authentic.
The St. Louis Actors' Studio's hilarious and darkly comic work, Killer Joe, graced the stage of the Gaslight Theatre this past April 6-22, 2012.