With the popularity and intrigue surrounding true crime narratives in our current entertainment sphere, it’s no surprise that Steep Theatre chose to premiere Calamity West’s Hinter as part of its 17th season. Based off the “Hinterkaifeck Murders,” a brutal and fatal bludgeoning of an entire family and their maid in 1922 rural Bavaria, West’s fictionalized account promises to delve into the famously unsolved crime and the various political and social issues surrounding it.
Perhaps its this wealth of intentions, though, that ultimately unravels the play’s execution. A la Margaret Atwood’s book and now popular Netflix series Alias Grace, West takes a strong stance in refusing to offer a straightforward explanation. However, where Atwood’s text focuses primarily on gender and sexuality, West seems overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities, both in tone and content.
Is the play a darkly comedic whodunnit? A heart pounding thriller...or maybe a family drama? A period piece or a modernized account? West’s selection of “all of the above” ends up creating more mysteries than it solves as characters shift between modern and 1920s vernacular and scenes jump abruptly from serious to comedic. The shift between acts one and two is especially disjointed--act one ends in a fog that you hope the second act will help lift, only to find that act two feels like another play entirely, taking us back to before the murders but providing thin connecting threads between the characters and events.
The only grounding element in the play is Thomas Dixon’s impressive sound design, which deftly manipulated the effects in the small space and succeeded in creating a sense of suspense and realism.
Overall, despite several talented artists and a compelling real-life story, Steep's world premiere of Hinter is too confounding to enjoy, and too disjointed to recommend.
Review by Emily Schmidt
Hinter continues at Steep Theatre through March 3. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.