The 1924 Chicago murder trial of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr. is brought vividly to life in a classy revival of 1985's "Never the Sinner" by two Washington, D.C.-area theaters, Arlington, Va.'s Signature Theater and Columbia, Md.'s, Rep Stage. Since its attention-getting debut 12 years ago, John Logan's play has gone largely unproduced, but in an era thirsty for worthwhile drama, "Never the Sinner" more than fills the bill. It might not see a better production than this one.
In Logan’s telling, the two confessed murderers, 19-year-old lads of privilege, share a lack of conscience but are otherwise polar opposites. Jason Patrick Bowcott’s Leopold is an insecure homosexual whose keen intellect does not shield him from easy manipulation. He is a fascinating study in character weaknesses, a pitiable mess whose studied mannerisms speak volumes. By contrast, Michael Solomon’s Loeb is a cocky lout, eager to seduce for his selfish and whimsical pursuits. An unremorseful thrill- seeker ready for a dare, he needs no real motive to abduct young Bobby Franks and beat him to death.James J. Lawless is equally convincing as attorney Clarence Darrow, flamboyant and passionate in his courtroom theatrics while profound in disgust over his two unrepentant clients. Ditto Glenn Pannell as the earnest prosecutor. Combined, the four offer an intelligent interpretation of Logan’s succinct and thought-provoking material. The script leaps back and forth between courtroom proceedings and the crime. Ethan McSweeny’s staging capitalizes on the opportunities offered by the Signature’s intimate space and Lou Stancari’s fascinating set is crucial to the delightfully intense plot.