Lisa Hoffman never says a word. Neither does her killer and one-time lover, James Parker Caine.
Instead, their pas de deux, solo movements and the words of reporters, relatives, television writers and lawyers tell the story in "Killers, What a Murder Leaves Behind," a dance drama inspired by Ted Bundy."The victim can't speak for herself because she is dead," said author Susy Schneider. "The killer is really defined by all these other people."
Rather than an account of the nation's most infamous serial killer, however, the action revolves around a fictitious rape-murder in a quiet Tacoma suburb.
The subject is less the perpetrator or the victim or the crime than the impact on others, like Michelle Hoffman, the dead woman's older sister, who says early in the action she feels "like Humpty Dumpty, waiting for that push."
"I wanted to look at revenge, what it is and what kind of emotion it is," Schneider said. "Murder is pretty ordinary. It's kind of like cancer, though. It can change your life."
It turns out that Caine, badly abused as a child, was convicted of attempted rape and served a prison term after Hoffman falsely testified that she had never had sex with him.
The truth is found in the dead woman's diary, introduced in Caine's murder trial in an unsuccessful bid to avoid a death sentence.
The Hoffman family is shattered. The mother dies six months after the murder. The father obsessively keeps scrapbooks of newspaper clippings in anticipation of an execution that never comes as appeal follows appeal. The sister quits her job as a Tacoma-area schoolteacher, then flees to take another teaching job in Kalispell, Mont.
Schneider, 42, an actress, comedian and former "Saturday Night Live" writer who left her native New York for Seattle five years ago, said she began exploring sex killings and "our convoluted ways of looking for love" when Bundy was executed.
"This is a real departure for me. I've never done anything so serious or with so many people," she said.
After 11 years of legal maneuvering, Bundy's time ran out on Jan. 24, 1989. In the preceding days, suspected in as many as 36 grisly killings and disappearances, he confessed to killing 23 women in four western states besides the three he was convicted of slaying in Florida.
Outside the Florida State Prison in Starke, more than 100 celebrants lit sparklers, detonated firecrackers, shouted "Burn, Bundy, burn!" and sang "On top of old Sparky," a parody based on the nickname for the state's electric chair.
"The last week before Ted Bundy was executed, I taped everything I could. I set my alarm so I would be sure he was dead. I was just totally outraged," Schneider said.
"Somehow it made me feel safe that Ted Bundy was dead, and I realized that that was not really furthering anything, was not really right," she said.
She wrote and talked with death row inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. One called her, collect.
"I thought, `This is the voice of a killer,' but that passed pretty quickly because it was also the voice of a human being, someone with a mom and a dad," she said.
The result, which closed March 17 at the Broadway Performance Hall, drew sparse audiences and mixed reviews.
"I have to admit, I bit off more than I could chew," Schneider said.
Dance lovers have not come because movement is sacrificed to dialogue, and theater lovers are largely unfamiliar with the Allegro! series and performance site, said Alan Pietsch, who danced Caine.
"The only way this character is portrayed is through the movement and through the words of the other characters," Pietsch said. "It's very hard, as an audience member, to focus on those two things at once."
Nonetheless, the power and intensity of the subject emerges in scenes where Schneider, playing a TV reporter, interviews Caine's mother while the orange prison suit-clad killer bats an imaginary ball against a wall over and over.
"We talked a lot about James Dean and `Rebel Without a Cause,' " said Mary Kay Bisignano, choreographer and portrayer of Hoffman. "I think it has to do kind of with the mystique of the murderer's image."
"White guys who commit sex crimes are such fodder for the entertainment industry," Schneider said. "In a way, this piece is kind of for the victims."