It was the “Crime of the Century,” a tale of two intelligent, young millionaires who commit an act of murder as an intellectual test. It begs the question: Can two well-respected members of society literally “get away with murder”? The courtroom drama, penned by John Logan, portrays two cheeky men whom equate the decision to murder with whether or not to eat pie for dessert. Richard Loeb, played by George Kaiser, and Nathan Leopold, played by Russell Gentry, think they are supermen and presume themselves to be above the law. On a 1924 Chicago spring evening, the two decide to kidnap Bobby Franks, a 14-year-old boy, and stow his remains-never to be discovered. However, even the best of supermen can be caught by the slightest mistakes. Never the Sinner tells the story of Loeb and Leopold, despised and swooned by the law and teenage girls, and their motivations behind such a virulent act.
The most innovative scene of the play is when Loeb and Leopold slay little Bobby Franks. The two mime the whole scene by killing an imaginary child with a made-up chisel. It is pivotal that the play does not have an actor to play the child, because such would only minimize the dramatics of the brilliant young actors, Gentry and Kaiser. Loeb laughs manically after the murder, while Leopold hyperventilates. “I-I tasted blood,” retches Leopold, and even though no sort of fluid was visible, one can almost taste it with him. If it is ever possible to mime a murder scene with as much suspense and horror as a bloody thriller, these actors have achieved it. It is a startling genius, a work of art made out of the simplicity of swatting a fly.
Clarence Darrow, the attorney who defends the boy’s case, snaps his suspenders and carries the courtroom in silent contempt. As “Wily o’ Clarence” wipes his worries with his handkerchief, he faces a moral dilemma in representing guilty murderers. Yet, with skill and severity, he declares, “I can see the sin and I can just as well hate that sin-but never the sinner,” and suddenly Loeb and Leopold do not appear any more heartless than misguided little boys. What Darrow evokes in the courtroom, and in us, is sympathy. Leopold would not have committed the crime without the encouraging of Loeb, and Loeb, in return, would not have been provoked into the act of crime without the support of Leopold. Yet, Leopold is so enraptured by Loeb, he cannot bear to deny his acquisitions. “He’s like a gem,” Leopold extols Loeb’s beauty in his eyes, “How can I ever hope to escape the blinding light that makes me beautiful?” Even in prison life, Leopold, in his ghastly pallor, would rather be hanged than be split from his confidant. “How’s your cell?” asks Loeb. Leopold glances in a saddening pout, “Too far from yours.”
But Loeb takes advantage of Leopold’s devotion, and urges him to take sole responsibility for the crime. “I just think it might be easier on my mom if she thinks you did it,” justifies Loeb, who is the mastermind of the whole scheme. Motivated by tales of the famous Al Capone, he fantasizes about killing for the sake of killing, but his fantasies soon begin to distort his sense of reality. “As you know, Teddy,” Loeb whispers to his imaginary companion about the thrills of crime. Intellect soon becomes flaw of the young billionaires rather than a virtue.
Although Leopold and Loeb seem to be best friends and accomplices in crime, there is something in their manner that suggests something more. It might be the way Leopold offers Loeb to call him “Babe,” or Loeb’s strokes Leopold’s chin gently as he indulges in wild visions of grandeur. Either way, one feels the emotional connection. The “shocking” kiss between the men is actually well expected.
In the end, justice prevails, though not in law. The men are sentenced to life in prison, despite public outcry for hanging. Instead, Loeb and Leopold are split up and lead separate lives, never to speak to one another ever again. The two fail their philosophical exercise and fall down as supermen. Danielle Batin, a freshman in psychology, remarks that Never the Sinner’s subject material was rather groundbreaking. “Plays like these are not often shown [at universities] for their candor,” she explains. “It’s real mature material,” adds Jeffrey Finnell, a student at Wake Technical Community College, “but I think it’s important.” Anything less would be a crime.