For the month of October, our Department of Theatre released a new student production called “Self Defense or the Death of a Salesman” by Carson Kreitzer. The title says it all, as we look at the recurring theme of “Self-defense” that centralizes the whole play. The main character Jolene Palmer (Jo), is a prostitute that becomes famous for the murder of seven men and given the title as the first female serial killer. She admits to the crimes as an act of self-defense, but because of her status as a prostitute, her pleas are invalidated.
The play’s main plot goes beyond the murder case, allowing audiences to view each character’s feelings and judgments. This sets those same audiences up to act as judge of Jo’s guilt or innocence.
Jo violently tries to present herself as a victim–but her rough character makes it difficult for others to see beyond her exterior in order to believe the claims she puts forth. The media, which plays a significant role in the show, is then able to easily portray Jo as a monster/serial killer.
It’s interesting to see how the victim is easily blamed, rather than seeing fault through the sexual perpetrator, throughout the play’s story; Jo is not seen as a victim of sexual abuse. Rather the case focuses on her history of angry behavior and her low social status as a prostitute.
Aside from the case, all the prostitutes presented in this play are done in a way to show how dehumanized they are made by others. For example, crimes that only involve prostitutes are labeled into the category NHI (No Humans Involved). This is an actual police term, used for classification for low priority victims due to their low social status. It’s a sad reality particularly when evident in play form so audience members can see the stigma the strippers feel compared to other women in the society. This not only shows the difficulty that Jo faces but also examines how the U.S. has historically viewed such women.
Loosely based off of the events of Aileen Wuornos’ life, who was also responsible for the killing of seven men, the play takes great inspiration from her story even as it goes beyond it. Wuornos was a prostitute at the time and claimed that the men either attempted to or did rape her, which led to her murdering them.
Both Aileen and Jo seem to truly believe what they did was morally correct.
The play taps into dark elements with its emphasis on rape and murder. As a result, it is for mature audiences but is worth the watch because it allows audiences to gain perspective on the way they judge and the assumptions they make. Additionally, the dark components were perfectly balanced out, as its mature content was relieved with a series of comical moments, that certainly had the audiences smiling before heading back to the darker ambiance. The dark humor is something that sets the mood for October and is overall a great show to get your mind thinking about the actions of not only the characters but of our overall nation.