We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Finally! The dimensions of the Metro Cafe’s microscopic stage actually work to the advantage of Cherry Red Productions. Jerry Springer characters fill the double-wide in Cherry Red’s latest, Tracy Letts’ 1993 trailer-trash thriller-comedy, Killer Joe. When thick hick Chris (Dan Brick) and his kin decide to whack Momma to cash in on her insurance policy, Chris does what any self-respecting Texas bumpkin would do: He hires a hit man. But when Killer Joe (Christopher Henley) first sets foot in the familial abode, he proves to be a bit savvier than the average mercenary. So much so that Chris’ little sis, Dottie (Michelle Mulitz), finds herself playing the pawn in a nasty little game of cat and rat. A bit bumpy in parts, Killer Joe falls in line with the underground, underrehearsed aesthetic Cherry Red has so lovingly cultivated. Henley, as Killer Joe, is more grimy than Grim Reaper, lacking the presence necessary to incite fear in fellow cast members Ken Arnold and Ellen Young, who bring a frightening legitimacy to their roles as money-grubbing rubes Ansel and Sharla. But Letts’ whip-smart wordplay is a guilty pleasure and touches on taboos that resonate beyond director Anton Dudley’s production. The 17-year-old Mulitz as Dottie is positively haunting, not necessarily for her confidence and command of the role—both of which she has cultivated as much as could be expected—but because of the sheer ickiness of the whole affair. Dottie’s raw pubescent sexuality is shockingly exploited. But beyond the cheap jokes, cheap laughs, and cheap shots, Cherry Red has done yet again what so much “underground” theater fails to do: hold a mirror up to American values and force us to admit that we don’t like what we see.—Amanda Fazzone