Ambitious and probing


The Executioner


Written by Jon Kern

Directed by Pedro Salazar 

Midtown International Theatre Festival ( for showtimes)

Workshop MainStage Theater, 312 West 36th St., 4th Floor

Non-union production (through August 4, 2007)

Review by Michael D. Jackson


John Kern’s challenging play, The Executioner, takes a good chunk of its ninety minute length to introduce its main plot of a brother and sister out to avenge the capital punishment execution of their mother. The sister, Barbara Ann, is smartly played by Melinda Helfrich, whose well- crafted performance gives little indication at the beginning of the ferocious being that will eventually emerge through the course of the play. Her final scenes, with the support of Isaac Hirotsu Woofter as Cort, her brother, and Scott Sweatt as the titular character, Fred, turn the production into something rather electric. Would that the hour or so leading up to these exciting climatic scenes have been equally enthralling, the play might have been a terrific drama.


Described as a “Texas noir set to music,” Sebastián Cruz and a small band on stage supply the music, and a cowgirl singer, Tania Molina, pops in from time to time to sing thematic country tunes. Occasionally the players themselves sing in the style of a musical, and then give way to Molina to take over the chores while one scene transitions to the next. Although, past the sake of adding variety to the endeavor, it is difficult to gauge whether or not the music is always useful.


Director Pedro Salazar has given the proceedings vibrant symbolic touches such as the dead Judge (Walker Lewis), wrapped in an American flag, or Barbara Ann, who is a waitress, being seduced on the counter of a diner, placing a cherry pie between her legs while executioner Fred eats up violent mouthfuls. His cast, especially Helfrich, Woofter and Sweatt, all turn in excellent performances, working hard to make the play dynamic and texture it with interesting character.


Kern means to comment on capital punishment. It would seem that he is against it, but his antidote of revenge doesn’t suggest a better alternative. The message here is: violence begets violence. The intrusion of a lesbian intrigue does little but make the plot foggy. The idea of this play, intriguing though it may be, does not seem to fulfill its goal––it is not clear what the author wants his audience to understand about our world. If we are to see that justice is corrupt, then we also are lead to understand that civilians are evil and nearly no one is good. Lesbian sheriffs, however, represent the only honest justice in this small town of Texas, so that’s something. The play is an absurd exploration of true things and however indefinable it may be, it is at least ambitious and probing.


Box Score:


Writing: 1

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 1

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2007 Michael D. Jackson


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