By Dawn Ryan

Campus Times Staff

Watching a performance of UR International Theatre Program’s latest creation, “Killer Joe,” is like watching an episode of Jerry Springer – for some inexplicable reason, you can’t stop watching.

“Killer Joe” presents its characters in a brutally honest, usually unflattering way. It takes a proverbial white-trash family and shows you how their lives collapse before them. Just like Jerry Springer, their suffering draws you in and you have to see what happens to them – human nature.

However, it’s easier to relate to the characters in “Killer Joe” than those on Springer. In fact, director Ian Belton made it a point of the show to present his characters in a humanistic way.

“I didn’t want to portray these people as clowns – people should be able to identify with them on some level,” Belton said.

As outrageous as the characters are, their flaws make them identifiable. “These people are like anyone else stuck in a bad situation,” Belton said. “You have to imagine what you’d do in their place, and if there’s anything you could do better.”

The plot revolves around the incredibly dysfunctional Smith family, comprised of the father Ansel and stepmother Charlotte, played by junior Ted Limpert and senior Meredith Flouton-Barnes, and juniors Jonathan Wetherbee and Shannon Sapolich who play their children, Chris and Dotty.

Wetherbee’s portrays Chris particularly well, bringing extreme anger to his character, like a venomous mix between Draco Malfoy and Eminem. But he also reveals a tangible fear beneath the surface unexpected from a skinny, angry, white boy. His unique performance will captivate you and make you sympathize with a character with a detestable personality.

In the play, Chris works up a scheme to make money by having his real mother murdered, which drags police officer and part-time assassin Killer Joe – played by junior Mike Riffle – into the unfortunate set of events. The complete collapse of the Smith family follows, and your jaw will be on the floor by the end of act two.

Belton also incorporates cinematic qualities on stage to make it so that “people here could relate to it more.” The only scenery is a shack that looks more like a garbage heap than a home – only too representative of the lives the Smiths lead. Belton also uses cinematic sound effects like barking dogs, breaking glass and thunder storms to make the play more interactive.

In nearly every way, this play is a candid shot of the darker side of human behavior. So skip Springer and head over to Todd Union to watch “Killer Joe” and satisfy your desire to see this side of life. It will give you the same outlet of seeing the lowest of low, but you will actually walk away with a better appreciation of how bad it can be, and how good you might have it.

You can catch “Killer Joe” Dec. 1 through 10 at Todd Union. Tickets cost $6 and are available at the Common Market or at the door.

Ryan can be reached at

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