Archie Mann, the entertaining and agitated solo character in So, I Killed a Few People, embodies a sobering reality about capital punishment. A 30-something Southerner, Archie is running short on life: His death in Florida's electric chair is imminent, the punishment for a lifelong preoccupation with serial murder (including a young woman in Tallahassee, whom he claimed to have slaughtered with 152 cuts, leading to his incarceration).
Beyond its straightforward plot, however, the play makes a sobering statement about the intrusion of pop culture and fantastical mass marketing in society, from TV to advertising to theme parks. And to prove it, the show's full of glib lines that get the laughs.
How fortunate that this not-well-traveled script written by Gary Ruderman and David Summers of The Annoyance Theater in Chicago, where it was first produced in 1998 is set in our state. Archie's father is and always has been a Disney employee (the lead technician at Frontierland). Now Archie curses the entertainment giant for its encouragement of subversive practices, which the sociopath loosely ascribes as a nurturance to his fate. "Disney has created more serial killers than the entire state of Wisconsin," he proclaims.
The familiar Disney connection helps the audience settle in to the play's offbeat premise: Though on death row, Archie has been granted the right to perform a show about his life before the lights blink. (In Florida, anything is possible.) So with unseen sharpshooters training guns on him, Archie revels in his shining moment, taunting and teasing the audience in one-man-talk-show style. That's where the production begins. "Welcome to my freak show," Archie tells the audience, sitting just outside the boundaries of his institutionally spare, overlit cell. He carries an air of charismatic danger punctuated by his flair for catchy jingles, a leftover of his brief stint in advertising. (He was fired for taking his job too seriously.) He claims that the phrase, "You do the math" is his own invention, and that's really how he'd like people to remember him. Seriously.
It doesn't take long for the mercurial felon to show his dark side. He warns us not to trust him, and we don't once we glimpse the beast inside. Yet neither do we believe that he's not telling the truth why go to such extremes if there's nothing aching inside of him that he must purge before he's gone? Thus, the inmate proceeds with his presentation, divided neatly into sections he announces via light-hearted hand-lettered poster boards, including "What the Fuck Do I Do All Day" (a whole lot of masturbating and measuring of his environment by "Archie-cocks") and "How They're Gonna Fry My Ass" (explained to him in detail by his engineer father upon his previous, final visit).
Without question, the magic unleashed in So, I Killed a Few People under the direction of Brook Hanemann is the outstanding performance by Rus Blackwell, a well-known, well-respected veteran of local theater. This is the second outing from Blackwell and company and their newly established Red Moon Theatre Joint, which presented a solid debut earlier this year in Rounding Third, also performed at Orlando Repertory Theatre. For this drama, the audience has to buy into the bizarre conceit of the Archie character and his predicament in order to follow his 90 minutes of lively banter. His sarcastic sense of humor tempers his chronicle of how he became a born-again Jew including circumcision in order to eat kosher food in prison (but he "still loves Jesus"), along with scores of other digressions.
Don't miss a word or there could be regrets later. Buried in the banter are the truths, self-realizations and self-delusions that Archie has determinedly brought to the light of day. There is no answer or solution offered, but once you share Archie's fatal dose of sitcom theology, the bigger picture comes into focus.