Signature Theatre’s ‘Kid Victory’ is haunting

Signature Theatre’s ‘Kid Victory’ is haunting

By Jordan Wright (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Luke is frightened. He can’t relate to anyone anymore and can’t explain where he’s been. At 17 years old he vanished, and now, one year later, he has returned to his middle class home in small town Kansas.

Was he taken or did he leave on his own? The police and the searchers never knew if they’d find him dead or alive. How will he explain his disappearance to a grieving community, a family whose deeply held religious convictions can’t help him and a girlfriend whom he refuses to see?

“Why did you stay? What went on?” Detective Marks (Bobby Smith) asks of him. A cursory examination of Stockholm syndrome would explain the conflict Luke endures.

“Kid Victory” is a haunting musical written by the legendary composer, John Kander (“Chicago,” “Cabaret”) and playwright Greg Pierce (“Slowgirl”). Its themes are both compelling and disturbing. They tell of a boy who’s made dangerous decisions he can’t come to terms with and a family who has too much invested in the prayer circles of the Heavenly Day Church to see beyond their blind faith to real human connection.

Jake Winn plays Luke, the eponymous “Kid Victory,” a name thrust upon him by Michael, a.k.a. “Yachticus.” Through an online gaming site, the older Michael befriends the wide-eyed Luke, inviting him to meet up for a day of sailing. Jeffry Denman crafts a credibly evil portrait of a psychopath whose pastime is dreaming up Viking adventures that provide the plot with unusual musical levity while conversely contributing the ominous line: “To the west of pain is paradise.”

As Luke’s mother, Christiane Noll plays a domineering woman more concerned with china collections and churchgoing than her son’s mental anguish. She is perfectly partnered with Christopher Bloch, Luke’s Father, a man so accustomed to being dominated by God and his wife that he is emotionally out of touch.

Against his mother’s wishes, Luke takes a job working for Emily (Sarah Litzsinger), an offbeat garden shop owner reminiscent of author Armistead Maupin’s quirky Haight-Ashbury characters. Emily is a free spirit and Luke takes to her uncomplicated life like a fish to water. In “People like Us,” she lets him know that it’s okay to be different. Litzsinger is marvelous as the take-no-prisoners hippy, who can travel to Kenya to help the poor but can’t care for her own daughter, Mara (Laura Darrell).

Scenic designer Clint Ramos creates the perfect triptych, dividing the stage into a living room, a boy’s bedroom adorned with childishly drawn sailboats, and Emily’s gnome-filled shop. A photographic backdrop of the beautiful Kansas wheat fields frames the conflict between freedom and isolation. Ramos draws in the dark side with a revolving bed that takes us into the clashing worlds of innocent boyhood dreams and Michael’s diabolical mind games.

How, you might imagine, can 17 songs accompany this plot? Though the music and scenes transition through ballads, blues and comedic slapstick, they appear to do so seamlessly — so seamlessly that some numbers segue one into another.

Liesl Tommy directs this riveting tale that will leave you indelibly moved.

Through March 22nd at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703-820-9771 or visit