The first time I drove past Obsidian Art Space, which is right by my house in the Heights, I knew I would love its interior as a space to put on beautiful, challenging, entertaining and progressive theatre. As I entered that very building last night to see Big Head Productions production of Tracy Letts’s Killer Joe, my suspicions were confirmed.

But this isn’t about the space, this is about Killer Joe, currently being given an intimate, no-punches-pulled treatment at Obsidian Art Space, under the direction of Ananka Kohnitz. First, I have to start with the set. Don’t worry, it’s not “the star of the show”, but rather it’s a perfect augmentation to making Letts’s make-believe hell-on-earth seem all too real. The set, quite literally, creeps out into the audience, and is designed in such a way that it gives you a tinge of claustrophobia, and makes you feel as if you are living inside the trailer with the trash for the duration of the piece. And while that’s an unsettling thing, it’s also wildly fun as an audience member. Also, being a bit of a lighting nerd, I have to comment on the amount realistic, and yes even special effect lighting that was done with a very minimal light rig. A realistic thunderstorm pulsates throughout most of the show, and the lights, along with a brilliant sound design, punctuate this point, and subtly drive it home.

The play itself? Come on! There’s nudity, rapid-fire f-bomb dialogue about killing one’s own mother for money to pay off a debt, and enough extreme violence and brutality to nearly make Tarantino blush. All carried out with just the right amount of savvy. Everything teeters on the edge of “not feeling safe”.

Killer Joe is a theatrical roller coaster. We ride roller coasters because even though we know they’re mostly safe and we won’t come to harm, they scare the hell out of us and present the illusion of doing so. We could derail, we could crash, the damn thing could break somehow…then we roll into the station, sweating, smiling, laughing, wanting to do it all again. So it was last night with Killer Joe, but instead of arriving at the station and wiping our brows, the audience simply rose to their feet, to give this cast, this playwright, and of course their director and designer the standing ovation they earned!

Do go check it out!

Killer Joe, playing at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, through April 16th!

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