Actors channel deranged mindset of murderers in making of Sweeney Todd

Freddie Wilhelm | Staff Writer

A Mason student by day, but tonight he will try his hand at murder as Sweeney Todd.

Tonight, the Mason Drama Club will debut their production of Sweeney Todd. The storyline brings emotion never explored by the drama club or its actors. In order to effectively carry out the plot, senior leads Matthew Berman and Anna Kosiarek must develop the mindset of murderers, Berman said although he has been involved in many productions by Mason Drama Club, he has found a great difference in this role due to the immense amount of work required to adequately characterize Sweeney Todd.

“I’ve never played such a complex character before,” Berman said. “To get into the mindset of a murderer you have to find what is the motivation for killing. What specifically pushes a man to the edge so far that he wants to kill another human being as revenge?”

Although the plot is heavily focused on the thrilling murders, Sweeney Todd also has elements of romance. Ms. Lovett, played by Kosiarek, aids Sweeney throughout his plot for revenge in order to win over his heart. Kosiarek said while she is used to being cast as a girl who is in love, Ms. Lovett poses a new challenge.

“It’s completely different for me, which is why I love it,” Kosiarek said. “I’m usually the sweet girl or the normal girl. Playing someone who is murderous and downright crazy is so much fun, you get to explore a different side of yourself.”

Young said that the preparation for playing a psychotic character, involves the actor trying to find a humanistic nature in their character and relate to the motives of the murderer.

“It’s always interesting when you’re playing a character who is evil; it’s not that you become evil, it’s finding within yourself what would drive you to make the same decisions,” Young said. “So at the core, Sweeney Todd is about revenge. You are horribly wronged, and you want to hurt those that have wronged you. The goal is to make it honest and believable, not over the top, by finding the humanity, which is difficult to do.“

Following Young’s advice, Kosiarek said she found the humanity in Ms. Lovett by analyzing her motives that drove her to kill.

“You always have to look at why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Kosiarek said. “In this play, I’m killing people for love; this is why it’s different. I’ve had to say, ‘She’s awful,’ but she’s still a person. I want the audience to like her and understand why she does it and not just think she’s crazy.”

Characters such as Michael Meyers from the movie Halloween and Freddy Krueger from Friday the 13th, have portrayed murderers as people who go on wild killing rampages, putting no thought into who or how they are killing. In contrast to this, Berman said he takes a more meticulous approach with his characterization of a murderer, making him seem more intelligent and humanistic as opposed to being insane like one of these famous characters.

“Other murderous characters, like psychopaths, who have no want or control, go on killing rampages,” Berman said. “I want the opposite. I want to be methodical where each kill is thought out, more like Hannibal Lecter type of murderer.”

With a show so different from others, involving trapdoors, murder and more, acting cannot be the sole focus for the club in this production. Special effects play a huge role in any play; however, Young said this show in particular gives the club an extra challenge in terms of special effect work.

”Each show has a unique set of challenges; this one has a lot of special effect work,” Young said. “For example, we will be throwing dummies off the catwalk for jump scares and making a ramp that actors can slide down. The goal is to delight and thrill the audience.”

Berman said he has enjoyed working with these interesting features of the show and that he has enjoyed discovering many new aspects of theater.

“We get to work on a lot of stage combat and different scenes where we kill people,” Berman said. “(We have to think about) crazy things like what it sounds like when your throat is slit, a bunch of things that I’ve never done before, and I’m having so much fun discovering them.”

The many hours of preparation will be on display, as the show premiers tonight in the Black Box theatre at 8 p.m.. Young said he can not wait to see how the audience responds to the show.

“I always enjoy watching the process come together,” Young said. “We have over 100 students working, whether in the cast or behind the scenes. We don’t get a sense of what we’re all doing until it all comes together. When the show comes together, I sit and watch the audience watch the show: how is it effecting the audience, particularly in a small theater? I’m hoping for jump scares and laughter, and we get riotous applause at the end of it.”