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‘Self Defense’ explores female serial killer

In the spirit of its founding and mission, convergence-continuum theater is presenting a skewed and quirky look at a real event in America’s history. It is the murder of multiple men by Jolene Palmer, a prostitute who claimed self-defense in each case. The play, also called “Self Defense,” is on stage through July 27.

The play offers some quick entries to discussion of issues such as family love, loss of children, male/female status and power, and the complex relationships that prostitution bring out. It’s a long menu, and with less than two hours’ playing time, “Self Defense” ultimately leaves a scattered, buckshot approach in which not one aspect is fully and satisfyingly explored. Still, the con-con production is provocative, which fits its mission and season nicely.

Playwright Carson Kreitzer uses a quick cutting editing technique that works better in movies and video than on stage. In “Self Defense,” a small cast must deftly change costumes as most play multiple roles.

The “real life” figure in “Self Defense” is Aileen Wuornos, who ultimately was executed in the electric chair. I’m not sure how much of the play’s script is based on actual events. In this script, Jolene Palmer, troubled by a tragic childhood, finds love with a younger woman named Lu. Laurel Hoffman as the central character has much more to work with than her cast colleagues, and under the creepy, brusque exterior, she gives glimpses of what may be going on under the surface. Possibly, Palmer’s primary drive was to take a stand against violence against women. Or, she may have just been mean and violent. Or, she may have been a complete victim of her environment.

As lover Lu, Elaine Feagler is a round-faced, not-bright friend, who is used by the police to get to Jolene. The lovers’ subsequent interactions are one of the play’s many “too loose” ends.

The start of “Self Defense” gradually lets the audience know that this is a kind of dramatic jigsaw puzzle. Two exotic dancers describe a creepy customer who pays for sex with electronics. A disinterested coroner tries to keep the grisly death scenes detached. Two cops with the 1980s names of “Bucket” and “Drums” are most effective as comic relief when one sells out as a “consultant” for a film deal.

Uniformly, the cast works well under the direction of Geoffrey Hoffman on a well-designed set that suggests intersecting pieces – a concept that parallels the script.

Through a video screen the audience learns with newscasts and interviews how the world reacted to the sudden deaths of men who may have victimized prostitutes more than the ladies wanted to be victims. I liked the creative audience seating, which included a “main gallery” and a smaller number, who become a sort of architectural jury in the case.

Based on what I saw at “Self Defense,” I’d put my bets mostly on the explanation offered by Clyde Simon’s “Shrink on the Stand.”

“Self Defense” is a play with the prominent theme of “passion,” which permeates this season at convergence-continuum. The first three shows looked at passion as a force that can go haywire and be destructive. The next three plays promise to look at passion through the lens of love and romance. Well … this is con-con, so we’ll see. For more information on “Self Defense,” call the theater, which is located in the heart of Tremont, at 216-687-0074.

Aaron Elersich as Bucket, Emiliy Pucell as Coroner, and Laurel Hoffman as Jolene Palmer are in the Convergence-Continuum production of "Self Defense". For information, call 216 687-0074. Courtesy photo

 

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