Courtesy of Nina Goodheart

“What role scares you?” a professor asked Gilberto Saenz ’19 last spring. Saenz’s answer led him to the one-man show “So, I Killed a Few People …” for his senior thesis in acting.

“So, I Killed a Few People …” was written by Gary Rudoren and David Summers. The play is a 75-minute monologue delivered by Archie, a serial killer on death row. Wearing a white jumpsuit, Archie stands on a bare platform with only a table and a chair throughout the entirety of the play. The stage is flooded in white light reminiscent of an operating room, and three TV screens flash on and off behind him. Archie explains that as his dying request, he asked for the opportunity to speak to an audience. Through jokes about Disney movies, other inmates and his killings, Archie’s likability shocks the audience.

“The minute I stopped thinking of him as a serial killer, the doors swung wide open,” Saenz said.

The show begins with a content warning of strobe lighting, moments of police brutality, references to suicidal ideation and sexual assault and graphic descriptions of violence and homicide. Saenz said that the play’s violent language made him pause before selecting the show as his senior project.

He performed a 10-minute excerpt of the script for an acting competition in high school, but he had not thought about the role since. Following the 2016 election of President Trump, Saenz reevaluated his choice.

“It made me critically question our fascination in America with the base and the dirty and the blood and the gore. Why do we like things in America that are disgusting and evil? Like Donald Trump, like Archie,” said Saenz.

Saenz originally intended to write a thesis on how society determines who receives a platform. He was particularly disturbed and intrigued by Trump’s unwavering audience despite divisive rhetoric, and hoped to explore a similar idea within the play.

Throughout the show, Archie addresses the audience and pushes them to consider why they listen to a serial killer. He mocks the audience’s fascination with blood and murder. Saenz commits fully to the intricacies of such a complex character. By the end of the play, Archie is tear-soaked and shaking.

Beyond its political implications, “So, I Killed a Few People …” challenged Saenz to perform his first one-man play. Abbey Burgess ’19, the production’s director, called the rehearsal process intimate and character-focused, since Saenz was the only actor.

“Your scene partner is the audience,” Burgess said, explaining the challenges of a one-man play.

Assistant director and stage manager Jacob Yoder-Schrock ’21 and Burgess worked over the summer to adapt the script to fit the modern day. They worked with one of the playwrights, Gary Rudoren, to update the script’s references and timeline for a modern audience.  Rudoren will host a talk-back after the Saturday matinee.

This semester, Saenz, Burgess and Yoder-Schrock began with research on serial killer psychology. Next, they moved into acting exercises, drawing on some practices that Burgess and Saenz learned over the summer at the O’Neill Theater’s Theatermakers Summer Intensive program. Finally, they workshopped the play and segmented the script into a map of changes in Archie’s storytelling.

With such an emotionally challenging role, Saenz explained that his support network — including Burgess, Yoder-Schrock, his advisers and friends — faced the question, “How do we get [Saenz] there safely and bring [him] back safely every time?”

Saenz conquered the fear that convinced him to choose the play last spring. Yet, the production elicits another type of fear from the audience.

“Archie ‘others’ so many people in the script, but we as an audience come in and say ‘he’s a serial killer.  He’s not me. I would never do that,’” said Burgess. “The idea of ‘othering’ is so dangerous and it’s what’s happening right now.”

“So, I Killed a Few People…” will run in the Whitney Theater in the Whitney Humanities Center Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Lindsay Daugherty  | lindsay.daugherty@yale.edu