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Larry Litt

Attorney for the Damned
In "Attorney for the Damned," a funny, horrific rock musical by Denis Woychuk (book, lyrics) and Rob McCullough (music), an idealistic lawyer (Allison Johnson, foreground) is forced to represent two criminally insane mental patients, one of whom has been found wearing the finger of a missing woman around his neck. This "Tommy"-style production is an adventure story told with dark humor, weird science and outsized, grotesque characters. Behind: Juliana Smith (Prosecutor), Pat Mattingly (Sixx, a criminal), Brian Ferrari (Judge).

Conceived and written by Denis Woychuk
Music composed by Rob McCulloch
Directed by Stephen Vincent Brennan
The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street, NYC
March 13 to April 30

Reviewed April 16, 2008

If Rocky Horror Picture Show can be summed up as loss of innocence rock musical with sex changes and gender bending, then Attorney for the Damned is rock and roll's personality loss, professional disappointment and violent acting out tribute.

We're asked to understand and sing along with the very real manipulation, guilt and final redemption of a young, beautiful, former corporate lawyer, turned attorney for the criminally insane, the play's attorney for the damned. Musicals have come a long way baby.

From the starting overture we're rocked and ready for legal action. Out comes Van (Juliana Smith) full of officious attitude looking like a Sex and the City predator, ready to bludgeon the first man that looks to her wrong. I loved her as a type of bitch on fem-steroids, over the top because of inherited privilege, not very good at concealing her hostility and lust for personal power. Van isn't given her expository song. I know who she is, not why she is.

Laura (Allison Johnson) is a burnt out lawyer on her way to bottoming out of the law world. She's learned that all the social reformist intentions of a young law student are smothered once you enter a law firm. Unless you're willing to take the charity cases. Unfortunately, Pro Bono is a no no for all but the most idealistic. So we get Laura, part American Indian, part white girl working with mental cases who hear voices that tell them to kill or be killed.

Laura sings her plaintive call to the world's down trodden whom she thought she could help. Why are there so many of them and why do the courts abandon them in their time of need? We know her angst, we're sympathetic. Laura telegraphs her disappointment from the beginning. I wanted to see her philosophical transition.

Dr. Blake (Ray Fisher) is a forensic psychiatrist with his own personality problems. His egoistic manipulations are at the crux of two patients' hearings in front of The Judge (Brian Ferrari), convincingly played a a straight faced, bored, true to type bureaucrat.

But it's the insane who fiercely grab our attention. Sixx (Pat Mattingly) is charged with child rape, while Cooke (Denny Blake) is charged with dismemberment, murder and blinding someone in a fight. Tests have shown them both to be socially unstable, violent and potentially harmful enough to cop insanity pleas. They should be behind bars or in Dr. Blake's institution getting much needed help for a long while. Preferably permanently.

Everyone except Van establishes themselves with clearly written and well pronounced songs in the first act. So far so good. At the obvious first act closer scene, we're told the first act is over, that there won't be an intermission. Instead everyone is invited upstairs after the show to the KGB Bar for a free drink.

However, Part Two is a different play with the same characters. Suddenly we're in a revenge drama where I thought we were going to examine the motives of prosecutors, lawyers, judges and criminal experts who combine to solve the problems of the criminally insane in and out of society.

We're treated to Dr. Blake's personality reversal from dedicated scientist to mad inventor. He strips to the waist, does something psycho-technical to Laura and then maybe rapes her? Okay I like bare bodies as much as the next guy, but this semi-physical exposure made the play a puzzling sex farce about black men dominating white women. I felt I was watching a tawdry 1970s porn movie watching white girls fantastically seduced by the superior electronics of African American tech geeks.

Then Sixx appears, sneaking up behind and chloroforming every authority figure in the play. At first I thought this was a fantasy sequence. Oh no, he wants revenge on them for releasing him into our hard hearted society when he was oh so happy institutionalized with other confined pederasts sharing three squares a day. To each his own paradise.

Maria Dalbotten as Liz.

Then there's Liz (Maria Dalbotten), Cooke's rediscovered alive murder victim turned junkie whore and now maybe Sixx's girlfriend and accomplice in eradicating all authority. She has one of the best songs and looks in the show. She is Woychuk's dream victim. She can't control her addictions. She do anything for a fix, a snort, a shot, a buck.

In fact Liz and the Jurettes, whose spirited singing, shimmying and costumes kept me toe tapping and gazing at them longingly, could go on the road as a slutty hophead fantasy girl band. They'd achieve instant stardom with mascara eyed Goth poseurs and tattooed, torn fashion geeks of both genders.

Back to Sixx who is now looking to kill Cooke for dismembering Liz. Or some other insane reason as they're both insane. I'm confused. But they get their just comeuppances and maybe everyone is saved except Dr. Blake or maybe not.

I thought this was weird until the last scene between Laura and Van. It's high wacko, out of left field, bordering on insane. Laura is pregnant with Cooke's baby and Van the bitch wants to marry her. No wonder I didn't go to law school. Do modern women criminal lawyers have their clients babies in lieu of fees? Do high bitch prosecutors turn soft core lesbian when confronted with prego bellies? Maybe I missed earlier lesbian humor, but nothing led to this scene. However it was the hottest few seconds of human contact in the whole play.

For me the second part trivializes Woychuk's sincere peek at criminal justice that the first act tries so hard and succeeds in exposing. Momentary, insecure, self-effacing gimmicks assault us. I was distracted by them because they weren't needed. No Jiminy Cricket necessary. Let me make up my own mind. There was much quizzical head shaking in the audience afterwards.

The Damned Band was fun loving, not too loud, and tightly backed the singers.

Denis Woychuk tells his story well in the inspiring, revelatory, critical first act. Too bad he didn't stop when he was finished talking truth to power. Problem is Liz the Slut doesn't appear until the second part. I would not have missed her degenerative glow for anything.


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