Victory Gardens’ “Never the Sinner” Review – Tsarnaevs of Yesteryear

(left to right) Japheth Balaban, Jordan brides and Keith Kupferer


Imagine—especially in these days just after the Paris Massacre—that the defense attorney for the younger Tsarnaev brother just said,, to paraphrase “…couldn’t it just be that something went so very wrong for these young men in that difficult journey from boy to man…” 


(left to right) Jordan Brodess and Japheth Balaban


More, consider that this eloquent and pithy observation, along with a concise plea to stop the carnage, was enough to spare his loathsome and unrepentant clients the death penalty.


(left to right) Jordan Brodess and Japheth Balaban


“Never the Sinner” portrays how this really happened in a case that was just as riveting in its time for a public that had already convicted the killers in the court of public opinion.  It is famed attorney Clarence Darrow (played by Keith Kupferer) making these observations about his similarly unrepentent clients, Nathan Leopold (played by Japhet Balaban) and Richard Loeb (played by Jordan Brodess), who might be called the Tsarnaevs of yesteryear, if you refuse, as this writer does, to grant today’s terrorists the conceit that they are motored by pure religious feelings. 


In this remount of the superb script by John Logan, Victory Gardens and Director Gary Griffin give us a fast-moving and timely reminder, set in Chicago, of just how vile and diseased murderers’ minds are.   For those of us who are firmly anti- death penalty it is also a showcase of just how much our sentiments fly in the face of public opinion and the lust for justice.  


The cast of "Never the Sinner"


It is Leopold and Loeb’s prosecutor, Crowe, (played by Derek Hasenstab), who gives loudest voice to the public’s bloodlust, informed less by US law and more by invoking Hammurabi’s Code.


(left to right) Jordan Brodess and Japheth Balaban


More than the powerful script, it is the convincing acting that puts “Never the Sinner” on the shortlist of best picks.  You will want to slap the face of that smirking Loeb (Jordan Brodress).  You will instinctively recoil from high IQ Leopold (Japhet Balaban).  When the prosecutor (Derek Hasenstab) asks how the mother of the murdered schoolmate is supposed to feel we share his rage.   You also will likely marvel, as we so often do, that Keith Kupferer looks so at home in this or any role on any stage. These actors are joined by three others who play multiple roles (Bill Bannon, Celeste M. Cooper, and Demetrios Troy) and also give compelling performances.  Seeing the cast apply its craft is alone worth the price of admission.


Now through December 6, 2015.


Victory Gardens Theater

2433 North Lincoln Avenue



For tickets or information call the Victory Gardens Box Office at 773 871 3000 or visit the Victory Gardens website.





Photos:  Michael Courier 

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