Killer Joe

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

11/09/2009 - 03/10/2009

Production Details


Move over True Blood: the real trailer trash are coming to town… The Basement Theatre, in fact, from September 11th. Heads roll, shatter and blow in Killer Joe, the savagely funny, pitch-black comedy by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Tracy Letts, making its New Zealand debut.

The play focuses on the Smith family, a greedy, vindictive clan of trailer-trash Texans who hatch a plan to murder their estranged, naggy, alcoholic matriarch to cash in on her insurance policy. Unable to bring themselves to do the deed, they hire Killer Joe Cooper, a full-time cop, part-time contract killer. Once he steps into their trailer, their simple plan quickly spirals out of control.

Shortland Street star Beth Allen appears with real-life love Charlie McDermott (last seen in Silo Theatre’s The Little Dog Laughed) as Dottie, the ingenue younger sister to McDermott’s Chris. "There is a edge of inappropriateness to Dottie and Chris’s relationship", says Allen. "It is a totally different character to Brooke on Shortland Street; Dottie is sexually unaware, while at the same time providing some of the play’s most shocking moments."

Alongside them, playing their parents, are Sarah Wiseman (Mercy Peak, Outrageous Fortune) and Craig Hall (Outrageous Fortune’s slippery Nicky). Wiseman and Hall are thrilled to be portraying the brazen Sharla and clueless Ansel. "The family live on a diet of television, fast food and bad decisions," says Wiseman. "It is fantastic to be part of such a visceral, in-your-face theatre experience." Colin Moy (In My Father’s Den) will appear as Joe, the well-heeled contract killer who throws the family into disarray.

Black as Texan oil and funny as hell, Killer Joe will be a wild night out at the theatre. Lock up your daughters: Killer Joe is on the loose.

"Deeply Funny [it has] the addictive pull of a classic thriller" – The New York Times

Killer Joe plays
September 11th – October 3rd 2009 (no shows on Sunday)
Preview Night: September 10th 2009
The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland CBD
Tickets: Preview: $20, Adults: $30, Concessions: $25, Actors Equity: $20
Bookings through iticket –, or 09 361 1000
Door sales also available on the night.

Ansel - Craig Hall
Chris - Charlie McDermott
Dottie - Beth Allen
Sharla - Sara Wiseman
Killer Joe - Colin Moy

Simon Coleman - Set Designer
Hannah Woods - Costume

Cheap-thrills show runs along at well-paced clip, y’all

Review by Janet McAllister 14th Sep 2009

If you’re good at suspending disbelief, and find threats and guns entertaining, you’ll probably quite enjoy Killer Joe. When a Texan trailer park family engages a contract killer to kill their ex-wife/ mother for the insurance money, you just know they’re asking for trouble.

You even know what kind of trouble they’re asking for; Joe ain’t got his nickname for his fishing, y’all. Cheap thrills are the goals of this show rather than believable characters or a plausible plot with a point to make. The relatively brief glimpses of nudity and violence are both voyeuristic and disturbing – a cleverly uneasy mix. They don’t feel gratuitous – but the white-trash stereotypes do. [More]
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But what does it mean?

Review by James Amos 12th Sep 2009

The naturalism is in your face and mixed with an almost absurdist storyline. The characters are superbly played! I’m thinking perhaps Harold Pinter is not dead, perhaps he has moved to America and changed his name to Tracy Letts! On top of that the style is realised perfectly through every facet of the production. These guys are real theatre badasses: they even smoke on stage!

The production standards totally blew me away! A TV that goes on and off (and plays content appropriate to the situation), the lighting, the sound effects and the way it was encased in a fake ceiling made it the first show I’ve been to at The Basement (nee Silo, nee Jeffery James Theatre) in which one is not acutely aware of the low ceiling in that space.

The setting is the inside of a caravan, Southern USA, somewhere in Texas.  Chris (Charlie McDermott) returns to the caravan of his father Ancel (Craig Hall) after being kicked out of his mother’s house. He needs cash to pay back a large debt owes to some fairly dodgy sounding characters.

Right from the get go the acting is fantastic, the accents are flawless and I feel as though I am really getting a good glimpse of a culture totally different from my own, and of a stunningly beautiful half naked woman – Chris’s stepmother – Sharla (Sara Wiseman).

You get to see almost everyone at least partially in the nick and they are all super hot. The superb acting makes it a bargain at twice the ticket price!

Chris has come to discuss something of a delicate nature with his Dad – his mother’s life insurance policy. We never see the unfortunate woman but it is pretty clear she’s not well loved by any one in the play. The challange for Chris is to convince his Dad to inlist the help of "Killer Joe" (Colin Moy) in order to do away with "mom" and take the cash for the good of the family – including Dottie (Beth Allen) who is Ansel’s simpleton daughter.

That’s all I’ll reveal about the story. If you want to see how it all pans out you’ll have to go and see the show, and I strongly recommend you do!

It is heavily supported by a crew that it makes the overall production so slick that I think future audiences are in for a real treat! The dialogue is snappy, real and at times hillarious. When there are moments of silence we get to really appreciate them because of this.

However, there is something that bothers me and I don’t know if it’s the play, the interpretation or the fact that the opening night audience, it would seem, refuses to see the play any other way than as a violent absudist comedy.  Well who am I to argue with them? They certainly have had a fabulous time and lots of laughter … but I am looking for something more sinister, there has been such promise and such a building of tension, then in a final flurry of activity it is suddenly all over!

I don’t know if they are directed this way or not, but the actors break character for the curtain call before the lights have gone down on the last scene – which leaves me feeling quite disturbed and it makes the play feel a little like an acting exercise – diffusing the strength of the performances.

To be completely honest I am left feeling very alone in the room, everyone is cheering and seems over joyed, but I am feeling empty because I am, in an instant, realising that the play – while brillaintly written and performed (in terms of the characterisation and dialogue) – is … well … meaningless. 

Now I am not one of those people that needs to know the meaning of every moment or to have a moral point rammed down my throat at all; I am quite happy to find it in simpler things, even in character itself … But I truly can’t find anything meanful to take away with me and I’m wondering what I have missed.

On the way home it dawns on me that the characters (every one of them) are real gems for any actor, but they don’t really develop throughout the story. In particular the title role "Killer Joe" has some quite massive changes to his life during the play, yet his dialogue stays cool as ever and so does Moy’s performance. I’d like to have seen director (Cameron Rhodes) encourage Moy to let us in on what’s going on for Joe because from what I have seen he appears to be exactly the same guy at the end as he was at the start, and I have a suspicion that his role could be the key to this play meaning something.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 



Michael Wray September 16th, 2009

I suspect it is Dottie who is key to both any meaning you want to infer and the way the play ends.

Joseph Harper September 13th, 2009

I didn't so much feel emptiness at the end of this production; quite the opposite. I was a little to full. I felt like my enjoyment and involvement ebbed and flowed with the play, and rose steadily throughout. I found the performances engaging and entertaining. The design was hugely impressive. Everything about this show was great for me, right down to the budweisers at the bar. And yet when it was over I felt a bit cock-teased. Bought to the point of climax, then told to leave. Was it just me, or does Killer Joe (the play) have no ending?

Would like to hear thoughts.

ed: Unless of course I'm looking at it wrong. Maybe that was the point. The plight goes on etc. Or as the reviewer suggested; application of absurd convention maybe.

Erroll Shand September 13th, 2009

John? that makes more sense.

cameron rhodes September 13th, 2009

Re Curtain Call...Fridge light illuminating movement, now remedied.

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