Albi Gorn of Hastings takes on the role of legendary defense lawyer Clarence Darrow in “Never the Sinner,” John Logan’s 1985 play based on the case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks in 1924. Leopold and Loeb became household names, and the murder was considered “the crime of the century.”
Produced by Axial Theatre, “Never the Sinner” will be performed eight times between Nov. 10-20, at Bethany Arts Community in Ossining.
The play focuses on Leopold and Loeb’s sentencing hearing, which lasted for 32 days. Due to Darrow’s entering a guilty plea for the two killers, the hearing was before a judge only, not a jury. The prosecutor, Robert Crowe, was also a leading attorney of the time. Logan based “Never the Sinner” on the daily reporting of what transpired in the courtroom.
To the dismay of those who hoped for the death penalty, Darrow obtained life sentences for Leopold and Loeb.
“Never the Sinner” is directed by Axial’s artistic director, Cady McClain, a three-time Emmy winner for her acting on daytime TV. Her theatrical directorial debut was “Paint Made Flesh,” a play by Axial founder Howard Meyer, staged at The Cell in New York City in June 2021.
McClain’s 2017 documentary film, “Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct,” won the Audience Award at the SOHO Film Festival and a Jury Prize at the Newport Beach Film Festival. It was released on PBS stations nationwide and the educational platform Kanopy. She currently plays Jennifer on the long-running soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”
McClain wanted Gorn as Darrow from the moment she knew she was directing “Never the Sinner.”
“I have been archiving the history of Axial and saw that Albi had done several productions,” McClain said. “I liked his energy and invited him to come be a part of the short film we are doing based on Westchester poet laureate B.K. Fischer’s novella in verse, ‘Ceive.’ We got the group together before we filmed and read the entire book aloud. Albi was wonderful.
“I knew then I wanted to put him in our production as Clarence Darrow,” she continued. “He had the intelligence and gravitas and could handle the complex language beautifully.”
Gorn is an award-winning actor and playwright, and co-founder of GoJo Productions with his wife, Robin Anne Joseph. His most recent performance was as the title character in “Tuesdays With Morrie” at the Westchester Collaborative Theater in Ossining. Gorn worked as a court reporter in New York City and Westchester County for 50 years.
“The focus of Logan’s play is the relationship between Leopold and Loeb, not on Darrow, and what forces drove them to commit murder,” Gorn explained. “In his notes, Logan wrote ‘This is a love story.’
“It is also done in a highly stylized way, jumping in and out of time,” Gorn added. Also, Logan has eliminated the judge from the cast of characters.
“Darrow was known as a champion of the underprivileged, so the very fact that he took the case and defended two rich kids was controversial,” Gorn continued. “He was eviscerated by the leftist press, and while it’s true that he knew the Loeb family, he took the case because he was so totally against the death penalty, however horrendous the crime.”
Gorn added, “Ninety-nine percent of the defense lawyers I saw in court were defending a guilty person.” Like Darrow, Gorn said, those lawyers believed in the possibility of rehabilitation — that even the guilty should have a shot at life.
Both actor and director referred to current events. Gorn said “Never the Sinner” made him think of the recent Parkland school shooting jury, and how they, like the judge in the Leopold and Loeb case, chose life, not death, for a killer. McClain noted the role of the reporters covering the Leopold and Loeb trial, and how salacious stories increase readership and viewership.
In addition to Gorn, the play’s seven-member cast includes Broadway actor Patrick McGuinness as Crowe, Tom Ryan as Leopold, and Michael M. Alva as Loeb.
Following each performance, the audience is invited to talk about the play with the actors and special guests. McClain will lead the discussion.
Performances are Thursdays–Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general seating and $10 for students. Available at www.axialtheatre.com.