Little Murders

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Editorial Review

Backstage: Death and mayhem in ‘Little Murders’

By Jessica Goldstein
Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2011

“Little Murders,” a satire by Jules Feiffer set in an alternate-reality New York City, takes place in the home of the dysfunctional Newquist family. Horrific violence rages just outside their door. Gunshots can be heard constantly; the terror-trifecta of mugging, mayhem and murder threatens to engulf the Newquists’ barely stable existence.

So, just a lighthearted afternoon at the theater. Bring your kids!

Ellen Dempsey, directing her seventh show with American Century Theater, described the tone of the play as “much more towards the ‘Heathers’ side” (citing, for the sadly uninitiated, a hilarious movie in which teenagers kill one another). “The violence comes and it’s shocking, but you’re in this world that isn’t completely real, so it’s hard to take it tragically. . . . It’s a black comedy. Some people are going to laugh and some aren’t.”

“It’s an exaggerated world where, literally, you cannot go outside on the streets of New York without being mugged or shot at or stabbed or beat up,” said Emily Morrison, who plays Marjorie Newquist, family matriarch. “It’s just the way of everyday life, and it’s getting worse.”

The play is set in the interior of the family’s apartment, and the danger outside creeps through the crevices via sound effects.

What’s most stunning to Dempsey about the play, which was written more than 40 years ago, is its prescience. “It’s a good comment on the times we’re living in: There’s violence around. It reminds me of . . . when the D.C. sniper was out, the things that people would do . . . because there was random violence out there.”

Morrison agreed. “There’s a part in the play where the father . . . is talking about what we need to protect us. We need cameras in every elevator and doorway, in every shop. From 1967, it’s Big Brother looking forward. Except for lobotomies given to people who don’t make more than $10,000 a year, most of what [he predicts] has happened to us.”