“The Truth About Winnie Ruth Judd” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – February 10, 2024


“The Truth About Winnie Ruth Judd”
The Phoenix Theatre Company, Hardes Theatre
Phoenix AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

The notorious murderer Winnie Ruth Judd is a Phoenix legend for her killing of two friends, the dismemberment of one of the bodies, and stuffing both victims into leaky trunks she shipped by train to Los Angeles.  But did she kill the pair or did an accomplice commit the crimes?  That is the question “The Truth About Winnie Ruth Judd” tries to answer in its world premiere engagement at The Phoenix Theatre Company.

Many of the offence’s details are sordid and are ripe for dramatic intervention.  The murders are also potentially rich for historic license to make the situation more fascinating.  Unfortunately, the play by local playwrights Cathy Dresbach and Ben Tyler is flat, uninteresting, and although short seems to stretch on for an entirety without ever making Judd a curiosity.

The play’s set in the local KOY radio studios and begins just after the October 1931 murder.  The station hopes to capitalize on the double misdeed so it enacts the deaths as a radio play.  This bland and repetitious format has actors play the people involved in the mystery but they recite their characters blandly as the events unfolded in newspapers. The play also tries to explore Judd’s mental stability.

This crime should become an interesting historical piece but it never does because the tale is exceedingly dry and tediously told.  The revelations and details of the murders sputter on without ever making the lady exciting.  The play also makes the people around Judd who may or may not have been involved in the murders weak, one-dimensional, and uninviting.

The acting ensemble tries without success to make the characters penetrating.  If Judd was really as dreary as the play makes her, why write a play about this woman?  There was a falling out between Judd and the two murdered friends.  Some of the dispute may have resulted from rivalry playing games and this might have added spark to the play.  Judd’s many successful escapes may have been assisted by a prison warden and Judd’s move to San Francisco and her job as a governess is hardly used.  The script never explodes so it fails to make Judd or the people around her lively.

Matthew Wiener’s staging doesn’t add any splash because the play never moves out of the radio studio.  The cast is filled with several local performers given little to work with but Megan Holcomb adds no brio to Judd’s character.  More flair comes from Louis Farber’s boozy and bigger-than-life Jack Williams, Ron May in a variety of small but critical roles, and Jon Gentry as the radio station manager.

What a shame “The Truth About Winnie Ruth Judd” never makes the central character or the murders more enticing.  It continues through March 17.  To order tickets, call The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade C