Tracy Letts’ KILLER JOE (@ Arsenal Arts Center through Dec. 28th) is definitely not a holiday show. It’s considered a “dark comedy,” a very dark comedy but in actuality it’s a tragedy with a humorous (to a point) undercurrent. You see, Joe is indeed a killer and a sexual sadist, to boot. (The latter is what’s undercuts the humor, in my opinion. Otherwise, KILLER JOE would be a cautionary tale where bad things happen to bad people—with a surprising twist at the end.)
Letts is the celebrated author of AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY, recently made into a film (about to be released) with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. KILLER JOE’s only resemblance to AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY is that both concern wildly dysfunctional families.
Emile Kreymer’s solid production for Zero Point Theater features Sean Stenco as the merciless hit man who doesn’t take kindly to being stiffed. (Stenco will make your blood run cold he’s so good.) Of course, a couple of trailer park losers have done just that. Since Joe fulfilled his part of the bargain, you know there will be payback. (Alas, we get to see that sexually violent, explicit payback up close in the small downstairs Arsenal theater space.)
On the lighter side, Letts has created a wonderfully quirky character in the “sleep walking, sleep talking” sister whom the family surrenders to Joe as a “retainer.” Kelley Feltham gives a deftly daft performance as the sister everyone thinks isn’t smart enough to figure out what’s going on. She shows them a thing or two!
If it weren’t for the on stage, gratuitous sexual violence, Letts might have had a satirical crime spoof on his hands but in my opinion, the creep factor overwhelms the comedy.