Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Little Murders

Also see Susan's review of The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Robin Covington, Bill Gordon and
James Finley

When Jules Feiffer wrote Little Murders, many people thought of New York City as a sinkhole of random violence where nothing was certain except the likelihood of disaster. In a similar time of society-wide unease, American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia, has decided to stage Feiffer's dark, bitter 1967 comedy—and, while the play has many resonances today, it also shows how some attitudes have changed over these 45 years.

Patsy Newquist (Robin Covington), a determined optimist, brings Alfred Chamberlain (James Finley) home to meet her family: her crusty father Carol (Craig Miller), who hates his name; manic mother Marjorie (Emily Morrison); and effete brother Kenny (Evan Crump). The Newquists are a little too close to each other—in part because of the senseless death of Patsy and Kenny's older brother—and they barricade themselves against the external soundtrack of gunshots, car accidents, and sirens, not to mention the heavy breather on the phone and the irregular power outages.

While Patsy is determined to steamroller over the bad things in life, Alfred is an "apathist" whose ruling emotion is passivity. People regularly beat him up and, as long as they don't damage his cameras (he's a photographer who prefers inanimate subjects), he stands quietly and sees no need to fight back. Patsy is determined to mold Alfred into the man she wants him to be, so they soon marry in a ceremony officiated by a hippie minister of the First Existential Church (Bill Gordon). And after that is when things really start getting weird.

Director Ellen Dempsey keeps the seemingly anarchic action under control. Covington shows how Patsy's surface charm only barely masks her iron determination, and Finley amuses as a man who considers sleepwalking through life a valid lifestyle choice.

Feiffer's play raises the question of the appropriate way to cope with an intolerable situation: are the only choices to ignore the despair of other people or to become as amoral and violent as the worst of them? In 2012, partisans may join the Tea Party or the Occupy movement, but a lot of people have found another way to opt out, anesthetizing themselves with their digital and electronic toys. The role of women and gays in society also has changed extensively since 1967; Kenny flounces and pouts but never talks about his sexuality, and Patsy states that, before meeting Alfred, she fell in love with gay men expressly to "change" them. Also, the residents of Feiffer's world are exclusively white and middle-class.

American Century Theater
Little Murders
January 13th - February 11th
By Jules Feiffer
Marjorie Newquist: Emily Morrison
Kenny Newquist: Evan Crump
Carol Newquist: Craig Miller
Patsy Newquist: Robin Covington
Alfred Chamberlain: James Finley
Henry Dupas: Bill Gordon
Judge Stern, Lt. Practice: Steve Lebens
Directed by Ellen Dempsey
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-553-8782 or

Photo: Dennis Deloria