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Killers strike 'A Twisted Bargain' in new play

Kevin Phan
In this undated photo, Michael (Juan Ayala) and Xander (Hunter Brown) plan a murder in Michael Mizerany's new play "Twisted Bargain."

Michael Mizerany has worked as a choreographer most of his career but more recently has turned his attention to playwriting and to horror. This weekend at Tenth Avenue Arts Center he premieres his play "A Twisted Bargain," which was inspired by the real life Leopold-Loeb murder case.

Mizerany has always been a fan of horror even though he often covers his eyes during scary movies and screams. I know this because I have sat next to him at screenings and enjoyed his often over-the-top reactions.

RELATED: Halloween Double Dare from Michael Mizerany


But through dance and now playwriting he sometimes forces himself to look at dark and horrific topics.

The seed for this play was sown when he was asked to partake in a festival called Dance Theater in 2012. He adapted and choreographed a piece called "Far From Eden" inspired by the play "Never the Sinner" about the infamous Chicago case involving the murder of a 14-year-old boy by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who capriciously just wanted to commit the perfect crime.

"The play itself dealt with the trial, but the background of the guys was really twisted. And so I delved into it more," Mizerany said. "Based on that, I wanted to write a play about where I thought their minds were. Some of the dance stuff I've done has been very dark. I think a lot of it has to do with true crime. I have a desire to better understand the unthinkable capacity for cruelty and what makes a person tick and think like that because I think I could never do that. But I really want to understand why a person could. And so this play is my idea of why they do the things they do. It's fiction for sure, but it's my take on it."

Kevin Phan
In this undated photo, Juan Ayala and Hunter Brown play a pair of young killers in Michael Mizerany's new play "Twisted Bargain."

The Leopold-Loeb case has also inspired a number of films: Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" (1948), "Compulsion" (1959) starring Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman as the killers, Tom Kalin's "Swoon" (1992), and Barbet Schroeder's "Murder by Numbers" (2002). There is also a PBS American Experience documentary called "The Perfect Crime."


Mizerany has moved the play up to the present day and to San Diego. He gives us Michael and Xander, played by Juan Ayala and Hunter Brown. And like the original killers they just want to kill someone for fun to see if they can get away with it.

"He's a psycho, a psycho with a little bit of a bipolar disorder," Ayala said of his character. "I think he confuses the lines in between violence and sex a lot. So what does that bring into life? That's the question, I guess. Because once you feel passionate about something, you just want to do that over and over again. And that's what he feels about killing."

Mizerany's playwriting did not begin this dark. His first plays could probably be described as sex comedies with snarky bite.

Mizerany took a writing workshop at the Old Globe Theatre in 2013 and emerged with a short play called "20 Minutes." This led him to create a show for San Diego International Fringe Festival where it won a writing award in 2016. That encouraged him to pursue more writing.

"A Twisted Bargain" is the first of three plays in what he is calling a "Thrillogy."

"Yes, this is the first and the plays are getting more violent and bloody," Mizerany said. "So the second one is called 'Ted Talks,' a homo-horror story and that premieres at Fringe (in June). It's a one-act and it's basically a homage-spoof to 'Misery' and 'Psycho.'"

"A Twisted Bargain" opens on Friday at The Forum Theater at The Tenth Avenue Arts Center (930 10th Avenue in downtown San Diego). It will have performances April 1 through 4, and then April 7 through 10.

The play has the advisory warning that it, "contains adult themes and content including profanity, male nudity, sexual situations and some violence."

Tickets are available here.