Written by Louis Aquiler and Chris D'Amato
Directed by Paul Mancini
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
Anyone who is inclined to have a penchant for New York City history might be drawn to a new play entitled “Dementia Americana” telling the story of what is billed “the Crime of the Century,” when Harry K. Thaw murdered architect Stanford White, shooting him three times in the back of the head point blank. The crime took place at the theater restaurant atop Madison Square Garden in 1906, a building that White had designed. He is also credited for his most prominent architectural landmark, the Washington Square Arch. The murder was prompted by the jealous rage of Thaw, when he discovers that Stanford had raped his now wife Evelyn, on a date that occurred long before they were wed. When brought to trial he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in a state hospital for the criminally insane, from which he escaped, was retried and found not guilty, no longer insane and set free.
The twist in this production is the narrator or story teller psychoanalyst Rollo May who was not even alive when the event took place being born in 1909. His purpose is to make sense of the psychotic episodes of Thaw, and finally make note of “Dementia Americana” or temporary insanity, a contemporary tool used by defense attorneys to plead their murder client’s innocence and have then set free to roam the streets. It seems it has and always will be a flawed judicial system.
The cast does what it can with the enactment of the story realizing it is more informative rather than action packed and broken up into short vignettes. There is a problem with hearing some actors especially when directing dialogue upstage or into the wings further exacerbated by the noise of the two window air conditioners (granted this complaint comes from being seated in the last row of the theater). Director Paul Mancini moves the story along but could pick up the pace during some stagnant scenes that seem to drag. This production is more interesting than exciting and a look at a strange, bizarre character and a notorious murder that happened just crosstown from the theater over one hundred years ago.