WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the ending of Possession: An American Serial Killer.
Possession: An American Serial Killer begins quietly, opening on a young woman’s bedroom. Listening to classic rock, Lonnie (Anza Seller) takes a moment to get intimate with herself before being interrupted, mocked and berated by her cruel mother, Anna (Berna Roberts).
It’s a moment that feels like one the audience shouldn’t be privy to, and as the play stretches on, “Possession” establishes itself as a series of moments like this. As spectators are thrust into the role of voyeur, there’s something invasive yet frustratingly alluring about the semi-fictionalized “origin story” of Lonnie’s love interest, Ted Bundy.
Bundy works at a suicide hotline, where he first engages with Lonnie, before quite literally charming the pants off of her. Before long, their relationship turns darkly psychosexual, their conversations often turning to erotic talk of hypothetical murders.
Anything that takes place within the confines of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theater is sure to be challenging, and “Possession,” written by Michael Levine and directed by Denise Devin, is no exception. Ted Bundy was obviously a real person who killed real people, so there’s something unnerving about watching this relationship unfold, as Lonnie begs Ted to tell her in detail how he might take her life.
Bundy is played by Chris Levine, at times on the verge of caricature. In some scenes, he glowers menacingly at Lonnie’s parents in between sneered compliments, while in others, he’s bellowing demonically at his cat that “not even a god can stop me.”
There’s admittedly some perverse fun in watching Levine transform into a blood-smeared monster, especially in stark contrast to Seller’s heartbreakingly grounded portrayal of Lonnie. While there are said to be potential links between a real murder victim named Lonnie Trumbull and the real Bundy dating to the late 60’s, a cursory search doesn’t show the Lonnie at the heart of “Possession” to be rooted in reality. This Lonnie endures constant verbal abuse at the hands of her parents, especially her father Morgan (David O’Hara). Her thighs bear marks of self-mutilation, her only respite coming from her conversations with Bundy.
But it’s this choice, this invention of the fictional Lonnie and her relationship with a killer based in reality that doesn’t quite sit right. Given Bundy’s status as one of America’s most infamous serial killers, it’s not much of a surprise that Lonnie doesn’t survive the finale of the play. While Bundy is clearly painted as the villain that he was, Lonnie still, on numerous occasions, begs him to kill her, even while he protests. Eventually, he gives in to his bloodlust, and even though the play makes it obvious that her pleas for death were more cries for help than real death wishes, there’s still something gross about the implication that she may have been complicit, even subtly, in her own demise.
Separate from any real-world connections, Possession does remain entertaining, pairing a lovesick teenager with a menacing predator and exploring the various dynamics such a relationship might provide. Chris Levine brings a terror to Bundy that’s perfect for the Halloween season, making “Possession: An American Serial Killer” a challenging, yet rewarding piece of horror theater.
Possession: An American Serial Killer runs on select nights through November 5. For more information, visit www.zombiejoes.com.