Cornelius Eady won the 2002 Oppenheimer Award for
DOUGLAS AIBEL Artistic Director
BARBARA ZINN KRIEGER Executive Director & Founder
BAROO S. RAMlREZ Managing Director
By CORNELIUS EADY
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
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.
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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