JEFFREY DAHMER (BrainSpunk): A chilling conversation with a serial killer

Josh Hitchens plays the psycho-killer in BrainSpunk’s JEFFREY DAHMER: GUILTY BUT INSANE (Photo credit: Ashley LaBonde, Wide Eyed Studios)

Josh Hitchens plays the psycho-killer in BrainSpunk’s JEFFREY DAHMER: GUILTY BUT INSANE (Photo credit: Ashley LaBonde, Wide Eyed Studios)

BrainSpunk Theater’s premiere full-stage production of JEFFREY DAHMER: GUILTY BUT INSANE is a tour-de-force solo show that will keep you spellbound, stunned, and sickened. Written and performed by the astonishing Josh Hitchens, the 90-minute monologue is based on the actual court transcripts and subsequent television interviews of the infamous “Milwaukee Monster” who drugged, raped, killed, and dismembered seventeen young men between 1978 and 1991, committing necrophilia on some, cannibalizing others, and preserving the skulls and bones of many for his gruesome prized collection.

Skillfully directed with tension and suspense by Ryan Walter, Hitchens moves back and forth from the stool on which he sits and directly addresses the audience, through the intimate interior space of a living room and basement workshop furnished with the implements of Dahmer’s real-life crimes (set design by Christopher King, props by Stephanie Stoner), as he recounts and reenacts the psycho-killer’s vivid memories and horrifying atrocities with shocking detail and matter-of-fact clarity. His up-close and personal performance–enhanced by moody lighting (John Allerheiligen) and sound (Lucas Fendlay), and an uncanny replication of the murderer’s all-American look and clothing (costume by Hitchens)–is at once riveting, repulsive, and seductive, as the audience follows his every move and expression with rapt attention. Hitchens’ Dahmer becomes excited, agitated, aroused, and enraged at moments in his story, using the stool as his victims’ bodies—caressing, strangling, and flaying it, throwing it across the stage and smashing it–then instantaneously returns to the chilling impassivity and flat focus that characterize a sociopath’s blunted affect.

Hitchens’ masterwork includes a number of sardonic observations by Dahmer (“I should have gone into taxidermy; I would have been good at it”), but none more provocative than his rhetorical question, after having been found guilty and sane: “How many men do you have to kill and eat to be insane in Milwaukee?” Almost as appalling as Dahmer’s thirteen-year crime spree are his revelations of the countless missed opportunities by family, co-workers, a cab driver, and law enforcement to uncover, and to bring an end to, his serial abominations. As he noted, all they had to do was “look”–but people would rather “ignore.” This is one stellar, award-worthy performance with a blood-curdling message that no one should ignore. [The PaperMill, 2825 Ormes Street] April 23-May 10, 2015; brainspunktheater.com.

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.