"There are different theories about why women are so interested in true crime. Some people say it's because we want to avoid it happening to us, but as a theater person, for me it's about exploring the depths of humanity and how our impulses come out in the most terrible, awful ways," Manley explains. "So I decided to create a show about women murderers, and serial killers tend to be the most interesting."
Audacious specializes in immersive productions, and when Manley decided to bring Lady Killers back into rotation this year, she wanted to take the audience even deeper into the experience. "The actors all got the script as a baseline, but then they did a whole bunch of research on their own," she explains.
The format includes a scripted show as well as audience question-and-answer time with the lady killers. themselves. "It's like Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, but the audience gets to be Clarice," Manley says. "They can ask any questions they want, and there are also questions especially formulated to elicit the juicier truths from the actors — but the idea is for everyone to get a real interaction with these serial killers, to interview them and ask about their impulses and what they've done."
Audiences will enter a Halloween party in hell, which is hosted by legendary Hungarian serial killer Elizabeth Báthory, aka the Blood Countess. She's providing entertainment for the evening in the form of six notorious killers from history who happen to be women — but she also has a decision to make involving the women for which she's going to ask the audience's help. As attendees talk to each murderess, they'll collect cards to verify they've spoken to her; the questions they ask and what they learn will have an influence on the trajectory of the evening.
We don't hear much about "Jolly" Jane Toppan, one of the most prolific (and earliest) "Angel of Death" killers — a nurse who killed patients and family members. Much better known are Lizzie Borden, who was tried and acquitted of killing her father and stepmother with an ax in 1892, and serial killer Aileen Wuornos, famously portrayed by Charlize Theron in 2003's Monster, a sex worker who lured johns to an untimely demise.
Manley also dug up a variety of lady killers from around the globe. Great Britain's Myra Hindley helped lure several children to their deaths. La Voisin was a French fortune teller who lived during the reign of King Louis XIV and was burned at the stake after being implicated in the French murder scandal known as the Affair of the Poisons — but even she isn't as scary as Credonia Mwerinde, a Ugandan cult leader who some experts believe killed more of her followers than any other cult leader in recorded history.
The setup for Lady Killers includes areas belonging to each woman where attendees can hang out between the performances, as well as enjoy refreshments and plenty of photo opportunities. "We tried to create an immersive experience that puts the audience in charge," Manley says. "They get to go through and ask questions and analyze and enjoy themselves."
Costumes are encouraged, and prizes will be given out at each performance — including a "Best Masked" award, so guests can incorporate their most fashionable face coverings into their holiday gear.
Lady Killers: Masquerade of Murder opens Friday, October 8, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through October 30 and a special Halloween performance on Sunday, October 31, all at Highlands Lutheran Church, 3995 Irving Street. Tickets, $35, are available at audacioustheatre.com/upcoming.