"Why the heck would anyone want to do a play about that?"
I've been speaking for more than an hour with "Tony," a convicted sex offender, about Mr. Bundy, Jane Martin's one-act drama about a child molester. I've got a long list of questions I'd like Tony to consider -- Does an offender have a right to privacy? Does he deserve forgiveness, once he's paid a debt to society? Which is greater, our right to protect our children or an ex-con's restored rights? -- but he's having a hard time getting past the idea that anyone would write a play about this subject. Every 10 minutes or so, he interrupts me to ask, again, "Who's gonna go see a show about that?"
In fact, Mr. Bundy isn't really about sex offenders at all, a fact that the folks at In Mixed Company are hoping their audiences will appreciate. Mr. Bundy is about the fear that grows in people when we're provoked and, as one character says, "the risks that we take to remain human."
Continues through Saturday, July 14, at Phoenix Theatre's Little Theatre, 100 North Central. Call 602-258-1974.
It's about Catherine, a child psychologist, and Robert, a recovering alcoholic, who are trying to rebuild their marriage after a recent separation. They live in an upscale suburban neighborhood with their daughter, Cassidy, whose best friend is Mr. Bundy, the elderly gentleman next door. Enter Jimmy Ray and Tianna, a Christian couple who've come to tell Cassidy's parents that Mr. Bundy served prison time 13 years earlier for molesting teenage boys. Jimmy Ray and Tianna's own daughter was raped and murdered, and now they travel the country alerting communities to the presence of convicted child molesters. They want Robert and Catherine's help in running Mr. Bundy out of town, and we become witnesses to what happens when people are forced to choose between their convictions and their fears.
I was hoping Tony would attend Mr. Bundy with me, but he refused. Tony has himself been "moved along," twice because his neighbors found out about his conviction (a sex offender's status is public record and, in Arizona and other states, his name and photograph are routinely posted on state-run Internet sites) and the last time because, as he puts it, "I was tempted and didn't want trouble."
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Tony doesn't want to see a play that will remind him of "what a bad person I am." But the bad guy here isn't the old man with the prison record; the bad guys are Jimmy Ray and Tianna. They invoke the Lord's name as reason for their revenge, and they're relentless in their attempts to persuade Cassidy's parents to discriminate against someone they've come to trust.
Mr. Bundy sounds depressing, but it's not. The play argues for forgiveness, and insists that people can change. Martin maintains both sides of this difficult argument in Robert, whom Catherine has recently forgiven for an extramarital affair. Robert refuses to forgive Mr. Bundy his own transgressions, and Catherine is forced to admit that her husband is weak, hypocritical and incapable of fealty.
As Catherine, diminutive Debra K. Stevens towers over every scene, her frenetic emoting emphasizing anger over self-pity. Mike Prindiville, who affects a drawl and a menacing swagger, is at his best as righteous Jimmy Ray. But the most memorable performance is by Lisa Fogel as Tianna, a vulgar tart whose spitefulness is balanced by a giddy warmth. Her alternately affectionate and antagonistic speeches to the audience are as shocking and entertaining as her gaudy get-ups, courtesy of costumer Paul Wilson.
I ended up being thankful that Tony had refused to accompany me to Mr. Bundy. He would have been horrified at the insert handed out to audience members with their program: a sealed envelope printed with the warning, "Opening this will reveal the name and picture of a Maricopa County registered sex offender." I applauded In Mixed Company's nerve, and its bravery in presenting such a risky piece of theater. I knew that Tony, who'd told me that "no one needs to know about a person's old, evil mistakes," would feel differently.