“Killer Joe” is a kitchen-sink drama in which the protagonists are the trailer trash Smiths, circa the early 1980s. The beer-swilling TV addicted Ansel Smith (Mike Sears plays him with mercurial bravado and cowardice) is married to Sharla (newcomer Judy Bauerlein-Mitchell), who works in a diner and enjoys an affair on the side. Ansel has two adult children from a previous marriage, his loser son Chris (Joe Baker), a frequent visitor, always in need of money; and Ansel’s slightly slow, virginal daughter Dottie (an amazingly still, vulnerable Amanda Cooley Davis), who lives with them and becomes “collateral” with which to play Killer Joe (immense and immensely scary Don Pugh) to murder Ansel’s unseen previous wife for her insurance policy, the proceeds of which purportedly would come to Dottie.
With a fine eye for detail, dirt and clutter (people actually live like this) and Killer Joe’s odd, only partial aversion to same, Lisa Berger stages this bloody, black comedy. Some die. Most all get naked. Everyone is certifiably stupid and that’s what makes it so funny. One doubts such detail could have been possible without Michael McKeon, who created the marvelous set, props and a lot of convincing blood. Lisa Burgess’ costumes are spot-on, especially Sharla’s funeral dress, everyone’s tattered underwear and Dottie’s holey sweatshirt.
“Killer Joe” continues at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 5 at Compass Theatre, 6th and Pennsylvania, Hillcrest (San Diego). For tickets ($23) and information, visit www.compasstheatre.com or call (619) 688-9210.