Model Killer

Model Killer: Giant Crimes & Tiny Cover-Ups is a morbid comedy centered on a disgruntled dollhouse maker turned investigator. Vivian Nutt builds dioramas of unsolved murders, only for it to be revealed that she is in fact, a serial killer.  In Model Killer, I am creating a universe in which I invite the viewer to reconsider female serial killers, the historically feminine craft of miniatures, and murder as entertainment.

How is our perception of gender colored through the lens of aggression? Can injecting the idealized settings of dollhouses with the macabre, expose the fraud of domestic tranquility? Are Vivian’s attempts to construct a world that fits her model of justice by eliminating problematic people out-of-scale with their transgressions? These are a few of the questions I am taking a stab at.

IMG_8169 Photo: Richard Termine
Photo: Richard Termine


Nothing is as it seems in the small town of Ripton Falls, a present day dystopia marred by heightened conflict and growing violence. During an opening gala at the Institute of Crime, while chief curator, Mavis Blumenthal unveils the new Murderabilia Wing to elite donors, she discovers a mysterious package with a threatening letter explaining how Vivian became the Model Killer.

We flash back to Vivian’s shop, Little Miss Miniac’s Miniature Marvels, where business has been waning, due to the dwindling use of handmade items and growing popularity of virtual media. In isolation, Vivian becomes addicted to detail (and adhesive fumes). Her only reprieve is Gacy, her chatty service-parrot, who repeats her vaguely homicidal idiomatic comments. Just as Vivian is forced to close shop, she spots an ad for a police crime lab that is hiring a model maker. She scores an interview.

Model Killer, 2017, Photo: Richard Termine
Model Killer, 2017, Photo: Richard Termine

A series of accidents with annoying people foreshadows Vivian’s transformation from lonely crafter to blood thirsty serial killer. During a refund, Vivian slices the hand of an entitled customer with a five-dollar bill. On the way to the interview, her van collides with a bicyclist who takes up too much space. After the interview Vivian unknowingly opens the door onto the Human Resources Director, Joyce Brady, fatally knocking her down a stairwell. Vivian and Sheena, a troubled secretary, Joyce belittled, conspire to cover up the death and supplant Joyce at the crime lab where she wasn’t very popular in the first place.

While working on a model for Joyce’s death with alternative evidence, Vivian discovers that retail giant, Drafty Krafty, has discontinued her favorite adhesive. At a forced meeting with the CEO, Vivian learns of his secret plans to push through religious exemption laws. When he makes unwanted advances, Vivian bludgeons him with a box of tongue depressors. After stuffing his body into a latex suit and dumping it at a motel near Rubber Rendezvous (a convention for men who wear doll suits) she builds another model to maintain her innocence.

Vivian’s ascent in power and realization that it’s easy to get away with murder awakens a blood lust that sets off a string of well-intentioned (but misguided) social justice killings. Her targets include a plastic surgeon who purposefully botches patients for psychosexual gratification, a hedge fund manager who rigs drug prices, and a tenure-thirsty adjunct professor who attempts to take down Vivian on LinkBook for nanoaggressions.

As Vivian’s crime-solving models garner attention, she becomes romantically entangled with a foreign business woman who happens to collect pieces of murder memorabilia. When she discovers Vivian’s unconventional process she commissions new killings so she can buy the models.

Vivian’s targets become ever larger in scale. When she stages a mass suicide of the reality show family behind Keeping Abreast of the Batmazians fame, Crime TV personality, Grace Shapiro, and Obit-Editorial writer, Trixie Ransom, become major impediments.

Vivian follows Shapiro and Ransom to the opening night gala at the West Ripton Falls Institute of Crime, where she hopes to perpetrate her largest crime to date – a mass killing of elite museum donors using deadly gas.

Model Killer, 2017, Photo: Isaak Berliner/Eugene O’Neill Theater Center


My jumping off point is the work of Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy grandmother who built intricate miniature crime scenes in the 40’s and 50’s to train detectives in assessing visual evidence. I am experimenting with injecting the idealized settings of dollhouses with the macabre to expose the fraud of domestic tranquility.  I will use these heightened, artificial spaces to reexamine romantic notions of innocence and the happy endings pushed by fairy tales, spoon-fed to us by the mass media.

I am researching artists like Laurie Simmons, Thomas Demand, and James Casebere, who subvert the historically feminine craft of miniatures while highlighting the artifice of models. I have also been studying patterns of female serial killers to create a fictive world in which I can illuminate how our construction of gender is colored through the lens of aggression.

Puppetry is a well-suited medium for grisly subject matter – heightened scenes of violence that flirt with the precipice of dead and alive. I am inspired by the idea of models, themselves becoming the central storytelling device – a distancing site for reenactments – where scale and time can shift fluidly.

In the final form, I envision guiding viewers through darkened rooms filled with dollhouses, dioramas, performing objects, puppets, and miniature sets which I will activate, so they can be witness to giant crimes and tiny cover-ups.

Marsian De Lellis, 2017, Photo: Isaak Berliner/Eugene O’Neill Theater Center


Model Killer (excerpt), Automata, Los Angeles
Model Killer
R+D Residency, Los Angeles Performance Practice / Automata, Los Angeles,

Model Victims (excerpt), Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, CT
Artist-In-Residence, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, CT

Private Reading (excerpts), Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, CT


American Theatre, a publication of the Theatre Communications Group

Photo credits: Richard Termine, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center