Jeffrey Dahmer Live
nytheatre.com review by Joe Beaudin
August 16, 2011
"The world can go (bleep) itself, I am going to be me," sings Jeffrey Dahmer in this solo musical written and performed by Avner Kam. This creed, surely inspired by Madonna ("Express Yourself"), is just one of the many insights into the bizarre and troubled mind of one of America's most notorious serial cannibalistic killers. You may think you know all about his famous "act," but wait until you hear him sing about it!
Performed, in cabaret style, as a show within a show, set inside a prison, Dahmer, clothed in an orange jump suit, explains his life story in chronological order. The show is filled with dry humor and multimedia images, and begs the audience to try and understand why he did what he did. We learn about Jeffery's early days, how he became an alcoholic, his sexuality, and ultimately how he ended up committing those infamous and gruesome acts. Oh, and yes, there are songs interspersed between the scenes.
I was very excited to see this. I wanted to see how one would interpret the story of such a sick and twisted mind by turning it into a solo musical. Unfortunately, the moments fell flat. The show seemed to have an identity crisis. From the outset, it looked as though camp and playfulness would be running rampant through and through, and that is evident in the first song, with the repeating chorus of "I'm sick." But then the play adopts a slow pace and never really harnesses that over-the-top ridiculousness that I thought would have made it more appealing.
Kam has a few subtle comedic moments, and his dry sense of humor works nicely. Director Jonathan Warman (along with video designer Brad Peterson) does a lovely job of outlining Dahmer's life with the use of images and video splayed on the back wall. And both of them create a great deal of sympathy for Dahmer, which I really appreciated. But I believe the show itself lacks energy, and the five songs that are sung are a little monotonous and all seem to sound too similar too each other, with the exception of the final song about Jeffrey's insatiable hunger. This tune is more upbeat and bouncy, and a pleasant change from the previous numbers.
Gosh, I really wanted this show to razzle dazzle. The premise has so much potential, but in the end, I think the creators missed the mark on this one. To be fair though, maybe the over-the-top thing was not their intention. The story itself is interesting, the material is risky, but I think constructing a stronger choice of HOW it was told may have made this show more successful.