This story was updated to correct the date of the play’s premiere.
The concept of murder for the sheer thrill of it was surely more shocking in 1929 when Rope premiered. Today, stories of senseless murder are, sadly common. Yet this psychological and philosophical thriller retains its capacity to shock.
Rope, playing weekends at the Actors Co-op in Hollywood through October 28th, is set in the opulent, late-1920’s London home of Wyndham Brandon (Burt Grinstead) and Charles Granillo (David Huynh). As the play opens, the two roommates murder the only son of a doting and wealthy book collector, in a cavalier quest to commit “the perfect crime.”
Shortly after they deposit the corpse into a large chest, they greet five guests. Brandon is an arrogant and enthusiastic killer, practically giddy to prove he is unaffected by the deed. Granillo, by contrast, seems undone and his demeanor and heavy drinking raise the stakes. Guests Kenneth Raglan (Kyle Anderson), Leila Arden (Heidi Palomino) and Rupert Cadell (Donnie Smith) make engaging conversation that further challenges the killer’s serene facade.
The gathering — including the dead boy’s father (Carl Johnson), and aunt (Elizabeth Herron) — takes place around the chest containing the corpse. As the players eat off of, sit on, discuss and express curiosity about the chest, there’s the shadow of Edgar Allen Poe’s 1843 short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Yet the plot is based on the true story of Leopold and Loeb, two students who, on a lark, murder a 14-year-old boy, in their own misguided attempt to commit a perfect crime. That 1924 case became not only the basis for this play and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 movie adaptation, but two subsequent movies.
Rope contains gothic elements, such as a well-timed thunderstorm raging outside, that underscore its vintage. Yet despite its age, Rope addresses timeless issues of conscience and moral responsibility. This is an inside-out thriller, where the audience seeks to learn not who did it, but whether they will pay. Director Ken Sawyer keeps tensions high, and the cast delivers.
Rope is the opening show in the 27th season of Actors Co-op Theatre Company, which includes She Loves Me and Steel Magnolias. The show has a running time of 90 minutes with no intermission. The theater is at 1760 N. Gower Street and has free parking. Additional information and tickets are available at www.actorsco-op.org.