Michael Slade’s quietly engrossing psychological thriller “Under a Red Moon,” a riveting, relatively sound mind game of mental illness and religion, receives an excellent co-world premiere at the Loft Theatre courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company and Kentucky’s Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center.
Inside a bleak, cold examination room of London’s Lewes Prison (efficiently designed by Scott J. Kimmins and expertly lit by John Rensel), the notorious 1949 “Acid Bath Murderer” John George Haigh (Bradford Cover, deliciously imposing, slick and sophisticated) fights for his life while overseen by prison warden Ralph Gow (an amiable Daniel C. Britt) and tirelessly questioned by the incredibly cool and intuitive Dr. Ruth Covington (Dee Pelletier, terrifically reserved). Awaiting trial, Haigh, the confessed serial killer carrying enormous baggage from his emotionally damaged childhood, entices, threatens and startlingly seduces Covington in the hopes of being deemed insane. For better or worse, Covington takes the bait, but maintains the upper hand in this cat-and-mouse exercise even as Haigh’s shrewd, unyielding prosecutorial aims escalate beyond her expectations
Astutely directed with sharp tension by Margarett Perry, whose knack for navigating compelling character studies was also seen in the Human Race’s “God of Carnage” and “The Retreat from Moscow,” “Red Moon” could be shortened by 10 or 15 minutes due to its tendency to go around in circles as Haigh and Covington debate. Even so, the play’s most intriguing, thought-provoking aspects are firm, specifically Haigh’s certainty that his murderous spree was entirely directed by God, a matter smartly left open to interpretation. Considering he was raised within a religious sect, is very familiar with the scriptures and was greatly influenced by a mother who had a fascination with dreams, it’s not surprising how he came to and was continually motivated by this assessment. In fact, and in particularly convincing fashion, Slade parallels Haigh’s penchant for dreams and its repercussions with the biblical story of Joseph, whose visions of supremacy infuriated his brothers so much they sold him into slavery. This interesting comparison gives credence to the effects of Haigh’s religious upbringing while keeping Covington on her toes as she fishes for answers. Slade also effectively dives into Haigh’s psyche as he interprets an eerie dream featuring his mother smiling at him on the titular blood-soaked moon.
Despite a groan-inducing instance that finds rage oddly morphing into romance, “Red Moon” is a fascinating look at evil intertwined with faith.
“Under a Red Moon” continues through Oct. 27 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances begin at 8 p.m. The play is performed in 95 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $17.50-$40. For tickets or more information, contact Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com