Partners In Crime

Hoosier playwright Bennett Ayres and Indy actor Mark Goetzinger collaborate on the world premiere of ”And I Will Follow.”
Indy-based actor Mark Goetzinger, Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre artistic director Constance Macy, and playwright Bennett Ayres

In 1900, Tazewell County, Illinois, farmer Samuel Moser murdered his wife and their three children. One of Indianapolis’ leading actors, Mark Goetzinger, grew up near the scene of the crime.

Playwright Bennett Ayres and Goetzinger met decades ago at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. Later, Goetzinger starred in Ayres’ play Lanista, and the two were looking for another project. When Goetzinger mentioned the Moser case, which he calls “a strange mixture of religion, fanaticism, madness, and love,” Ayres saw stage potential. The result, And I Will Follow, premieres at the Phoenix on March 21.

Newspapers at the time were not shy about the gory details. “When his wife went into the cellar for provisions, he stole down stealthily behind her, and placing the revolver at her right temple sent a bullet crashing through her brain,” wrote a reporter for the Bloomington, Illinois, paper The Daily Pantagraph. The account gets more gruesome from there.

Moser was arrested in Utah and confessed—but not without a scapegoat. A headline in the Indianapolis News noted: “Moser says doctrine of the Amish church caused him to murder his family.” Prior to his crimes, he’d been expelled from the church. He claimed he was then ostracized from his kin. “This trouble is all due to the Amish community I formerly lived with,” he said. The nationally covered trial introduced the public to Amish traditions. For example, after being expelled, Moser said he was prohibited from dining with his family or eating food cooked in the same vessels. The play’s title is a phrase Moser used. “I think Mark and I both wanted to be a little scared,” says Ayres about his decision to use only a single actor. “A one-person historical drama about personal tragedy, religion, and murder which took place in Mark’s backyard—we knew it would be a marathon for both of us. But we also knew that theaters continue to struggle and that a low-tech, modest-budget one-hander might have an edge getting staged.”

The sole character played by Goetzinger is a reporter named Werner. “I wanted a character who could operate on many different levels in this world: an observer, a neighbor, an investigator, a salesman, a loner with his own hidden past, a storyteller on even ground with an audience,” Ayres explains. “So, a fictional reporter seemed a good choice, someone who could live in the facts of the event but not be hemmed in by them. Then I needed to let this murder story be an activator for the character’s own pursuit while also reflecting on the reality of 1900—which I’m hoping will reflect on our reality today.”

Constance Macy, artistic director of the Phoenix, was predisposed to staging the play. “I promised myself that I would be an advocate for local artists and bust the myth that a worthy theater-maker must come from somewhere else. Every single play we will produce this season was written by a Hoosier playwright and performed by Indy-based actors.” 

Dark Days

And I Will Follow is hardly the only somber production being staged this season at the Phoenix. “I didn’t mean to produce only dark plays, but it makes sense because I’m a huge true crime fan. If I’m in my car, I’m listening to Crime Junkie,” shares Macy. Here are just some of the others.

  • Indianapolis Shakespeare Company’s modern adaptation of Julius Caesar is about history’s most famed assassination.
  • American Lives Theatre’s production of Spay deals with the opioid crisis in an Appalachian town.
  • The Phoenix’s own production of White City Murder concerns the notorious H. H. Holmes serial killings in Chicago.