Cornelius Eady won the 2002 Oppenheimer Award for

BRUTAL IMAGINATION

 

This play ran at the Vineyard in early 2002

 

VINEYARD THEATRE

DOUGLAS AIBEL Artistic Director

BARBARA ZINN KRIEGER Executive Director & Founder

BAROO S. RAMlREZ Managing Director

presents

BRUTAL IMAGINATION

By CORNELIUS EADY

 

Starring

SALLY MURPHY as Susan Smith

JOE MORTON as Mr. ZERO

 

Directed by DIANE PAULUS

Music by DIEDRE MURRAY

Stage Adaptation Developed by CORNELIUS EADY & DIANE PAULUS

Set Design by MARK WENDLAND

Costume Design by ILONA SOMOGYI

Lighting Design by KEVIN ADAMS

Sound Design by BRETT JARVIS and DAVID A. GILMAN

Production Stage Manager CHRISTINE M. DALY

Press Representative SAM RUDY

Musicians

DIANA HEROLD, CLIFF KORMAN, JIM NOLET, MARVIN SEWELL

 

Union, South Carolina, 1994

 

Susan Smith runs screaming in the night to report that a black man wearing a worn flannel shirt, jeans, and a toboggan-type hat has just carjacked her, abducting her two young sons.

 

BRUTAL IMAGINATION...

 

As we know, no, there never was a black man, or any man that night.  There was only Susan Smith, and the two unsuspecting children who ended up drowned in a local lake.  We now know that their mother murdered them.  For nine days in 1994, some of the world, mainly Union, SC, was in desperate search for a product of Ms. Smithís brutal imagination.

 

Here, in Cornelius Eadyís BRUTAL IMAGINATION, adapted from his book of poetry of the same name, Susan Smithís invention, and all those of similar ilk, is personified.  As Mr. ZERO, Mr. Morton is clad as the invented perpetrator.  Ms. Murphy, as Susan, is dressed as Ms. Smith often appeared in press footage.  The initially spare set design implies car crash rubble.  At the beginning, it is piled compactly.  As the alibi unravels, the pieces, by bits, are strewn around the stage.  The lighting design, which is stark, primarily relies on a series of single bulbs dropped from the ceiling, reminiscent of the infamous interrogation lamp.

 

Here, ZERO, although a fictitious alibi, is represented as Susanís comfort, alter ego and conscience.  She embraces the safety he affords her, seeming at one point what is best described as lustful, but as the days pass, becomes increasingly less reliant on the stability of her story.  Confronted with the brutal truth of not only her invention, but also many similar ones, Susan is made vulnerable.  In the end, she lets go of ZERO.

 

In BRUTAL IMAGINATION, with the lovely accompaniment of live music, the audience hears from not only Susan Smith, but from ZERO as well.  From his perspective, he came into existence the minute the crime was committed and Susan decided to cover it up.  He is aware of his own history as an invention of convenience.  Joe Morton, given the opportunity to portray not only ZERO, but other works of fiction, such as a lamenting adult Buckwheat, and a sharp-witted Steppinfetchit, runs the spectrum from sad to slyly sardonic, and back again.  Playing against Sally Murphyís Susan Smith, forever fussing with her glasses and hair, defiant and emotional, Morton becomes the rock his creator seems to so desperately need.

 

Structure, acting and intent aside, the big drawback here is impact.  ZERO is sympathetic, but he represents a social phenomenon.  Susan is simply pitiful.  What never quite comes across is the terrible drowning of the two children, Michael and Alexander.  The horror of the crime is strangely muted here, as much directs us toward Susanís mindset, but little is relayed about the senselessness of the murders themselves.  I have a feeling that the written word here, especially the original poems, outshine this dramatization.

 

I credit BRUTAL IMAGINATIONís author, Cornelius Eady, for approaching the many difficult issues surrounding this story with tact and dignity.  This artistic rendition of a series of true events is never maudlin.  Unfortunately, it is also never moving.

 

- Kessa De Santis -

 

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