Calamity West’s “Gacy Play,” presented by Sideshow Theatre is probably not quite what you expect. Rather than being a comprehensive exploration of John Wayne Gacy’s life and crimes, the play’s approach is Aristotelian, presenting one moment in his life.
Gacy (Andy Luther) lives in his mother’s old suburban house with his second wife Carol (Elizabeth Murphy) and runs a construction business. Much of the play consists of ordinary, even mundane conversation. If you didn’t know better (spoiler alert, he’s a mass murderer) you might consider this the story of a beleaguered man flummoxed by a confusing world.
The play is a thoughtful, occasionally gripping meditation on what Hannah Arendt called “The banality of evil”. John Wayne Gacy is a nice guy. He’s friendly. He’s generous. He’s constantly chuckling as a nervous tic. And he has a compulsion to rape and murder teenage boys.
Since none of the people in his life know the truth about Gacy’s activities, he must discuss them with imaginary interlocutors. He gets chewed out, not so much for murder but for weakness and duplicity by his namesake John Wayne (Jim Farrell). Farrell plays Wayne as a kind of generic gruff cowboy rather than attempting an actual impression of the Duke which is distracting. Why have John Wayne if he’s not going to be John Wayne?
We also get some dialogue between Gacy and his first three victims (Alex Ring, Andy Sheagren, Adam Shatzi).
I found his interactions with the living characters such as Carol and his employee/possible future victim Dave (Andrew Goetten) to be the most compelling. West and director Jonathan Green slowly build an atmosphere of dread as the characters in Gacy’s life start to realize there’s something very wrong with this friendly man.
I could see people being disappointed in this show for not attempting a larger biography but it works as a smaller, still disturbing drama.