Sean Chercover: 5 Crime Plays That Changed My Life

We talk crime fiction all the time, the vast majority of it books and movies and television. But today I want to talk about the theatre…

I grew up with one foot in the theatre. My dad was a stage actor and director before he made the move to the television industry, and my mom was an actress on stage and television before she had children. When I was a small person, my mom (who hails from Atlanta) worked as a dialect coach in the Toronto theatre scene, teaching Canuck thespians to talk southern. She used to bring me to rehearsals and I’d sit in the empty theatre watching with awe as the director and actors and crew put the show together. And my parents took my sister and me to plays in Toronto and occasionally New York.

I took a bunch of theatre in college and wrote a one-act play that was embarrassingly derivative of Samuel Beckett. It was staged at a festival of one-acts in Montreal, directed by my friend Larry Copeland.

Someday I’ll write another play. Maybe.

Meanwhile and in no particular order, here are 5 plays about crime that rocked my world…

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, by Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard is perhaps my favorite living playwright. EGBDF is an incredible play. It takes place in a Soviet mental hospital, where a dude named Alexander is being held. He’s not insane – he’s a political dissident who simply spoke out against his government. The government offers his release only if he signs a statement that says his opposition was due to mental illness, from which he is now cured. But he won’t sign it. His cellmate is a genuine mental patient – a schizophrenic who believes that he is surrounded by a symphony orchestra, believes himself the conductor, and hears music in his head.

It’s funny and horrifying and brilliant.

Here’s a look:

Deathtrap, by Ira Levin

This play has everything: murderous writers, a wall of weapons, and even a play-within-a-play. Big laughs and a plot that’s beyond twisty. I first saw it, not on stage but on film. Michael Cane, Christopher Reeve and Dyan Cannon nailed it. I’ve since seen it on stage, but with a lesser cast.

So, cheating a bit, but here’s a clip from the movie version…

American Buffalo, by David Mamet

I know, you thought I was gonna say Glengarry Glen Ross. And why not? GGR is a fabulous play, and I’m sure you’ve seen the movie (if you haven’t, then see it without delay). But American Buffalo was the first Mamet play I saw staged, back when I was a student at Columbia College Chicago in the late 80’s.

Small time Chicago crooks with half-baked plans to boost a valuable coin collection, full of Mamet’s profane poetry and signature rhythms.

This clip is, surprisingly, profanity-free:

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler

I’m sure you know all about this blood-soaked revenge story, so I won’t regurgitate it here. I first saw Sweeney Todd on Broadway in 1979, starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. It was freakin’ awesome.

Mmm, meat pies.

Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Saved my favorite for last, I did. The Scottish Play is simply the best thing ever written about vaulting ambition and the madness of power-lust. Plus, it’s got ghosts and witches and eye of newt.

Crime fiction doesn’t get better than this.

Dig the Macbeth Rap:

Sean Chercover is a dual citizen, born to a Canadian father and an American mother. He grew up in Toronto and spent childhood summers in Georgia. After earning a Liberal Arts degree from Columbia College Chicago, he worked as a private investigator in Chicago and New Orleans. His other professions have included television writer, video editor, support diver, waiter, encyclopedia salesman, and some best forgotten. After a series of corporate PR writing gigs drove Sean insane, he settled down to write fiction in earnest.

He is the author of the novels BIG CITY BAD BLOOD, TRIGGER CITY, and THE TRINITY GAME, as well as short stories that have appeared in a number of anthologies. His work has received the Anthony, Shamus, CWA Dagger, Dilys, Crimespree, Gumshoe and Lovey awards, and has been shortlisted for the Edgar, MacAvity, Barry, ITW Thriller and Arthur Ellis.

He lives with his wife and son in Toronto, where you can find him running in the ravines with his bionic dog. You can learn more about Sean on his website and can find him on Twitter andFacebook.