Theatergoers found a lot of reasons to dislike Paul Tei this season. He played a cold-blooded child-murderer in New Theatre's Never the Sinner
and a hot-blooded serial killer in GableStage's Popcorn
. But he is so good at being bad that we can't really hold it against him. Tei is the kind of actor who looks at a role not only as an opportunity to perform but also as a chance to create a persona. Consequently he can portray several different degenerates without his performances overlapping. As Wayne, the gun-toting redneck in Popcorn
, Tei kept us riveted to our seats -- appalled and laughing. But as Richard Loeb, a wealthy young Chicago man who, along with his lover, kills a young boy on a Nietzsche-inspired whim, he was outstandingly appalling. Tei never let audiences simply dislike his character. With his willingness to take risks and push the boundaries of character definition, he could make Ted Bundy funny. He dared to play the insolent, arrogant murderer Loeb as childlike and capricious -- clubbing a kid in the head one moment and going out for hot dogs the next. Tei's topnotch acting transformed these two good plays into excellent ones.