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SELF DEFENSE offers a view of a female serial killer at convergence continuum

Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

Clyde Simon, the Artistic Director of convergence-continuum, never steers clear of in-your-face, lurid language-laced scripts.  He has used this formula to consistently fill his theatre with cult patrons who are drawn to Simon’s tastes.  SELF DEFENSE OR DEATH OF SOME SALESMEN is a typical con-con offering.

Males, not females, tend to gain the distinction of being serial killers.  SELF DEFENSE OR DEATH OF SOME SALESMEN, however, is based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos (named Jolene Palmer in this script), a prostitute who earned herself the title of “The First Female Serial Killer.”  Her fame was based on the “honor” of killing seven men.  She claimed that the acts were all in self-defense.  The judge didn’t buy the plea, and Wuornos was sentenced to death.

The tale switches scenes quickly from strip joints, to Palmer’s home, to jail, to cars on route I-95 and woods along that route, to a corner’s office, a church, and a courtroom.  We learn of a desperate search for love and acceptance, following an abusive, sadistic childhood, and her forced abandonment of a child that was sired by her father’s friend.  She turns to Lu, a masculine lesbian, who is both immature and not-too-bright.  She swears eternal love and promises to take care of Lu.  As a means for increased income, Palmer turns to prostituting herself.

As the police investigate first one murder, than numerous others, a pattern emerges.  Much like the numerous television shows that follow this format, comments are made, actions take place quickly, often without the proper background to develop whole ideas.  In the end, Palmer is caught, and her personal life and the politics of the situation unfold.  Women’s rights, religious fanaticism, and the issue of whether males are more protected than females, the hypocrisies of the legal system, and if despicable men are treated better than the women who serve them, are all addressed.

The segmented format of the script is not surprising as the author, Carson Kreitzer, is well known for her ten-minute plays and monologues.

The con-con production, under the direction of Geoffrey Hoffman, is uneven.  Part of this is due to the choppiness of the script which seems more written for television, with segments snapped together by blackouts, much like media production fade-ins and fade-outs .  The acting is also uneven.  At times screaming and shouting emerge with no clear stimulus.  Some of the lines sound contrived coming from the mouths of the actors.  Whether this is the script or the talent level of the actors is debatable.

Laurel Hoffman creates a maniacal Jolene Palmer, complete with wild eyes, clenched hands, paranoid language, and bipolar mood swings.  At times she is terrifying, at other times her actions seem somewhat over done.

Aaron Elersich, as the investigator with a conscience, creates a generally believable character.  Emily Pucell develops a clear characterization as the Coroner.

The rest of the cast vary in their levels of believability.

Capsule Judgement: SELF DEFENSE OR DEATH OF SOME SALESMEN has an interesting story to tell.  It’s too bad that the author doesn’t do a better job of creating a more stage worthy script.  Con-cons production mirrors the script in its inconsistency of effectiveness.

SELF DEFENSE OR DEATH OF SOME SALESMEN runs through July 27 at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. For information and reservations call 216-687-0074.

Cc’s next show, BASED ON A TOTALLY TRUE STORY, by Robert Aquirre-Sacasa, runs from August 23 through September 14.