In the late 1920s in California, a young man named Gordon Stewart Northcott kidnapped, molested, and killed at least three and possibly as many as twenty boys, in what became known as the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. You're a Good Boy, Abercorn, by young playwright Topher Cusumano, is inspired by this case. It's a harrowing and rather emotionally devastating one-act play—just 30 minutes long, but packing a significant wallop just the same.
Cusumano himself takes the role of Abercorn, a young man who is apparently the last surviving victim of an older man named Bull (portrayed by Josh Lamon). Abercorn is haunted by memories of other boys, now gone; his memories of life before Bull are dim and confused (for example, he thinks his mother brought him here); his existence is governed by adherence to rules that have almost certainly been beaten into him over the years: "Shut up / Always listen / Never run / Stay young."
That last item is horrifyingly significant: Bull is as monstrous a pedophile as any I've seen portrayed in theatre or elsewhere, and while we witness evidence of all kinds of abuse in his relationship with Abercorn—physical and sexual—it is the verbal abuse, the humiliation, that feels most shocking. Bull repeatedly tells Abercorn that he's ugly and fat and stupid; the complete degradation of Abercorn, which has rendered him entirely dependent and unable to escape, is perhaps Bull's most singular act of destruction.
The play is hard to watch but never sensationalized. The script and performances are rooted in humanity and are fully three-dimensional; Lamon achieves the difficult feat of providing glimpses into Bull's character that allow for a degree of empathy, even. No director is credited but the work is carefully calibrated and builds in intensity as it reaches its terrible climax. Design elements by Rowan Darko (props and sound) and Ellen Rosenberg (lighting) contribute mightily to the experience.
You're a Good Boy, Abercorn could easily be genre theater, with no more lasting impact than a visit to a haunted house. But with great compassion and insight, Cusumano has thoroughly transcended such theatrics, and has instead created a deep and penetrating journey into some of the darkest areas of human nature that honestly examines the pain of both predator and prey in a scenario that none of us could wish on even our worst enemy. It's a worthy addition to the 2013 Left Out Festival, and reveals in Cusumano a fine playwriting talent that I will certainly be following.