Sean Christopher Lewis says he came to Philadelphia after graduate school to work at a local theater company. While he was in town, he was asked to participate in the mural program at Graterford Prison. The inmates, mostly people serving life sentences, constructed murals on cloth that were hung around the city.
Lewis says Philadelphia has a high murder rate, and it was particularly nasty in the summer of 2008. He ended up writing about it.
During Lewis’ time in Philly, he says a man down the street was murdered. He began following that story as well as interviewing inmates, politicians, victims, artists and politicians about murder in the City of Brotherly Love, its causes and the overall effect on the community.
The end result is Killadelphia. Lewis performs multiple characters, their stories gleaned from his interviews: Outside of paring them down, these are the words of the people with whom he spoke. He also plays himself, setting up each monologue. Lewis likens this particular piece to the works of Spalding Gray and Anna Deveare Smith.
Lewis has taken Killadelphia to cities across the country, and he’s been surprised by audiences’ reactions. He says people in Boise, Idaho—a city not known for its astronomical murder rate—identified with the subject matter as strongly as those in Philly.
The piece is complicated. Lewis presents multiple viewpoints, from murderer to victim’s advocate. Since there are no easy answers, he says he felt it would be arrogant to simply offer them. Rather, Lewis says he intends to spark conversations. Performances are followed by talk-back sessions where people can throw in their two cents.
Lewis will perform Killadelphia on Wednesday, Jan. 26, and Thursday, Jan. 27, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 29, at 6 p.m. at Theatre X (lower level of Popejoy Hall on UNM campus) as part of the Revolutions International Theatre Festival. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors) and available at unmtickets.com.