There are a couple of dramaturgical crimes that are frequently committed in the realm of contemporary performance, one being the authors’ assumption that his/her audience possesses the same level of familiarity as them with the subject matter; and the other choosing to obfuscate – rather than illuminate – the sometimes tenuous connections with one’s source material, which predictably results in the viewers being abandoned in the proverbial darkness.

I am afraid that Rebecca Patek’s the future was looking better in the past: my family herstory: or from religious persecution to american greed to murderous infamy to denial, repression and the slow dissolution into moral confusion, financial ruin and karmic retribution – as far as I could glean from the work being presented last week at the edgy, scrappy, forward-thinking Chocolate Factory in New York’s Long Island City, and as I anticipated from the convoluted title alone – falters on both counts. 

Compact in its delivery, the hour-long work digs for juicy tidbits through the history of Leopold and Loeb, the two wealthy, Nietzsche-loving teenagers who senselessly killed their peer Bobby Franks in 1924 Chicago, stirring much sensation in the press at the time, not only giving rise to the phrase “crime of the century” but also triggering the domino effect of creative works taking cue from the infamous murder case for many years. The work centers mainly on a linear A/B editing structure, zig-zagging between a court-room set-up with the murderers on trial (played with wry detachment by Chris Tyler and Sam Roeck), and the recreation of a staged “interview” between Patek and the New York choreographer Dean Moss (Tyler and Roeck again). While there is something amusing about the self-effacing inarticulateness that Patek imparts to her on-stage doppelgänger, the implication of “artist as a victim” that inescapably emerges from the comparison comes across as a bit of a push. John Hoobyar’s graceful, silent dancing haunts the stage space throughout these proceedings. Then, to spice this montage up, there are occasional fantasy videos of Leopold and Loeb’s homosexual dalliances, a surveillance-style audio recording of a sexual rendez-vous between Patek and an anonymous men, aerobics routine set to French pop, circuitous autobiographical references and, well, Zarathustra.

None of this neither illuminates the artist’s impetus to re-exhume this nearly century-old case, nor her personal investment in exploring the subject – a passing reference is made to Patek’s being related to one of the murderers, but it is not pursued beyond that presumed fact. Such being the case, one walked away from the theatre neither with a sense of new (or renewed) resonance with this controversial case nor with much insight into the “herstory” from Patek’s title.