SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — She was the sweet grandmother who became the black widow of Sacramento.
Dorothea Puente, the sweet-faced senior who drugged and murdered her elderly and disabled tenants, then buried them in her backyard and cashed their social security checks, is the subject of a new play called ‘Dorothea Puente Tells All.’
It’s a story that’s now taking center stage at the Wilkerson Theatre.
Puente died behind bars in 2011, but the story lives on through this new play.
Director Megan Cooper explained the premise: “She brings a bunch of strangers, hoping their voices will go out into the world and plead her case, but as she is telling the story the characters start turning against her.”
Over the years, Puente gained a reputation for being a philanthropist, donating the stolen money to charities and hob-knobbing with elected officials before a social worker exposed her crimes. She was convicted of killing several tenants and suspected of numerous other murders.
“What really fascinated us, especially in this day and age, is the exploration behind the psychology behind a toxic narcissist,” she said.
Actress Janis Stevens loves the challenge of portraying a strong, complex female character.
“You want to find the essence of a person but not make it a caricature,” she said as she donned a red housecoat made to match the one Puente wore during the trial.
Stevens transforms into Puente, tapping into the abuse Puente suffered as a child.
“And I think that’s what allowed her to become more or less reptilian. Just seeing something, and saying I am going to take that,” Stevens said.
The playwright was careful not to glorify what Puente did.
“The idea was more to explore what are the personality traits and what are the flags to look out for,” said Cooper.
The macabre story has found a new audience after the Victorian home where nine people were murdered was featured in a true-crime home renovation series called ‘Murder House Flip.’
Seeing the woman behind the crimes come to life on stage was eery and fascinating for audience members.
“It was eery and almost uncomfortable, but captivating. It made me want to research her more,” an audience member said.
Puente was never was allowed to speak during the trial, so the playwright said this is an idea of what she might have said.
The play is already sold out.