Caney Creek Productions
By STEVE EARLE
The Culture Project 45 Below Theatre, 45 Bleecker St., NYC, October 20 – November 13, 2005
Directed by BRUCE KRONENBERG
Scenic Designer ALLISON KEATING
Costume Designer CULLY LONG
Lighting Designer KIP MARSH
Sound Designers ALLISON MOORE, RAY KENNEDY
Make-Up Designer JOE RENZ
Stage Manager ALISON DINGLE
Press Representative OPR/ORIGLIO PUBLIC RELATIONS
Karla – Jodie Markell
Carolyn – Linda Marie Larson
Danny – Jeremy Schwartz
Jerry – E. Jason Liebrecht
Deborah – Jenny Maguire
The heinous acts committed one night in Texas, and the legal and public battle that resulted assured that the otherwise unremarkable Karla Faye Tucker would live in infamy and come to symbolize an important point in legal history. Sentenced to death in 1984, and executed in 1998, debate continues to follow Tucker. Some, even those who support the death penalty, are bothered by the notion of women on death row. Others, also supporting the death penalty, were touched by Tucker’s apparently credible religious conversion, and felt her life should be spared on the basis that the Karla sent to die was not the Karla that was convicted for committing two axe murders.
With all of this as meaty background to draw from, Steve Earle has penned a play, KARLA, that imagines the experiences of a posthumous Karla Faye Tucker. Beginning with the lethal injection that ended her life, and taking place in Purgatory, the play recounts the life and deeds of Tucker through a mock trial and largely expository flashbacks. Interesting premise, indeed, as Tucker encounters her mother, her boyfriend and her victims, enabling all she encounters to move toward the light after clearing the air with her.
Unfortunately, at times the action seems to move as slowly as Tucker’s wait on death row. The new and improved KARLA is a sweet and straightforward storyteller, sometimes, but the woman who committed the crime is only present anecdotally. In an impressive turn as her boyfriend and accomplice, Jeremy Schwartz is gripping and credible as Danny, delivering the best performance in the play. Linda Marie Larson, as Karla’s mother, exhibits all of the superficiality attributed her character. Jenny Maguire as innocent bystander and victim Deborah is not given much to work with, but she holds her own. E. Jason Liebrecht, portraying a man who was killed, in part, for beating on his wife, bears the veneer of the enraged and wronged, but never rings credible. Finally, Jodie Markell, as Karla, captures that familiar persona that grabbed media attention.
There were some moments, especially toward the end of KARLA, that were a little too embrace the beast for my tastes. I neither support the death penalty nor deny the possibility of redemption. I do, however, have objections to the glorification of murderers simply on the basis of "Jesus forgives!" and find it equally ludicrous that proponents of the punishment would make distinctions based on gender, as if the sex of the perpetrator makes a crime any more or less reprehensible. Gladly, Steve Earle, an opponent of the death penalty, does not use his play to diminish the horror of the crimes. On the contrary, the actions of Karla Faye Tucker are a constant and sometimes uncomfortable presence.
- Kessa De Santis -