Local Theater Dramatizes ‘Crime of the Century’

Taking a break from rehearsing “Never the Sinner” are (from left) Najah Imani Muhammad, Bruce Apar (of River Journal), and Youlim Nam, each of whom plays multiple roles in the Axial stage production. Photo by Donna Svennevik

If there’s such a thing as “newsworthy local theater,” the powerful stage play “Never the Sinner” – staged by Axial Theatre at Bethany Arts Community in Ossining Nov. 10-13 and 17-20 – makes as good a claim as any to that distinction.   

Consider the evidence … 

  • The true story is based on the so-called “Crime of the Century,” in 1924 Chicago, that saw legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow representing upper-class teenagers Nathan Leopold, Jr. and Richard Loeb for their “thrill” killing of 14-year-old Bobby Franks. 
  • As if ripped from today’s headlines, the full-length drama delves into the random killing of a schoolboy by other young people and comments on capital punishment, mental illness, public morality, and psychoanalysis, which was in its infancy as a medical discipline at the time. 
  • The production brings together three Westchester arts organizations in a collaborative effort to help reinvigorate regional theater with socially conscious work: Axial Theatre as the producer, Bethany Arts Community as the performance space, and GoJo Clan Productions, whose co-founder Albi Gorn, an award-winning playwright, stars as defense attorney Clarence Darrow. Said Bethany founder David Lyons: “For any community to grow, evolve, and remain relevant, a very important key is collaboration and cooperation. Ben Franklin said it best — “The good we can do together surpasses the good we can do alone.” 
     
  • “Never the Sinner” brings national talent to Westchester’s local theater scene. The play is directed and produced by Axial artistic director Cady McClain, currently appearing in daytime drama “Days of our Lives,” and a three-time Emmy winner for previous daytime drama roles. Co-producing with her is stage/film/TV director Steven Williford, staff director of “The Young and the Restless,” and Emmy winner for “Days of our Lives.” Also producing the show are Amanda Quinn Olivar, Editor-in-Chief of arts journal Curator.Guide and Axial Ensemble member Dan Walworth.
     
  • The play is one of the earliest works by John Logan, who has gone on to become a Tony winner (for the play “Red” about artist Mark Rothko) and the screenwriter of Hollywood blockbusters like “Gladiator,” “Any Given Sunday,” and James Bond movies “Spectre” and “Skyfall.”
     
  • The play is staged in cinematic style, with flashbacks veering from the courtroom trial to the planning of the crime, revealing the then-scandalously intimate relationship between Leopold and Loeb, portrayed by Tom Ryan and Michael M. Alva (respectively). Both are students in the acting conservatory program at Michael Howard Studios in Manhattan, where Axial Theatre founder and president, playwright Howard Meyer, teaches acting.
     
  • The entire cast of seven remains visible throughout the entire play, blending into the audience when not acting in a scene. Starring opposite Gorn’s disarmingly brilliant Clarence Darrow, prominent local actor Patrick McGuiness plays his razor-sharp rival, state prosecutor Robert Crowe. Three of the actors play multiple roles, including Bruce Apar, editorial director and associate publisher of River Journal, who also is an Axial Ensemble and board member, as Reporter 1, Dr. White, Bailiff, and Sergeant Gortland. Youlim Nam is Reporter 2, Germaine Reinhardt, and Dr. Hulbert. Najah Imani Muhammad is Reporter 3 and Dr. Bowman.
     
  • Showtimes for “Never the Sinner” are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday (Nov. 10-12 + 17-19), 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, and 11 a.m., Sunday, Nov. 20). For tickets ($25 general admission; $10 students), go to Axial Theatre’s website.

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