Curtain Call: "Gin and 'It'"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb's kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks became one of the first called "the trial of the century." In subsequent decades, it served as the inspiration for easily a dozen novels, plays and films.

Reid Farrington, a director and designer as well as a former video artist with The Wooster Group, has built his solo career on interweaving live and video action. Working with a Wexner Center Residency Award, Farrington has created the latest Leopold and Loeb variation, "Gin and 'It,' " receiving its world premiere this week in the Wexner Performance Space.

Unlike Leopold and Loeb, however, Farrington piles on the self-restraint. He has taken Alfred Hitchcock's first color film, 1948's "Rope," digitally isolated its human characters and projected them onto a full-scale reproduction of the original set.

"Rope" was adapted from the play of the same name by the British playwright Patrick Hamilton, based loosely on the Leopold and Loeb case. Hitchcock famously designed "Rope" to appear as if it had been filmed in one uninterrupted take.

"Rules and limitations are an essential framework to getting a theater piece like this underway," Farrington said. "But inevitably, the rules get broken. In 1948, a camera could only be loaded with 15 minutes of film. So film experiment or no film experiment, Hitchcock had no choice but to cut 10 times. Despite his greatest efforts to hide these cuts, he does break his own rules."

Farrington took this as license to loosen up his own restrictions with the goal of making things look right.

"The characters from the film are projected on two-foot-by-six-foot screens that are constantly rearranged by my performers," he said. "The pragmatic movement of the screens becomes a dance. There are moments of interaction between a projected image of, say, Jimmy Stewart, with one of my live actors on stage that are uncanny."

One limitation on the earlier incarnations no longer present in "Gin" is the murderers' homosexuality, references to which were forbidden by the Motion Picture Production Code of the time.

"The concept of two hyper-educated young men killing for the thrill of it - or worse, to prove that they were superior beings - is what keeps people coming back for more," Farrington said.

"It was a story almost ready-made for film and theater. A forbidden love affair, a vicious death, a sensational trial. And despite their lofty ideals, we realize these weren't any more than two incompetent criminals."

When: Thursday-Sunday, March 4-7

Where: Wexner Center Performance Space, Campus