Sunday, September 16, 2018

Millbrook: "The Bad Seed"

Maxwell Anderson"s 1954 stage version of The Bad Seed, a novel by William March, is perhaps best famous for the 1956 screen version starring a young Patty McCormack as a murderous child named Rhoda Penmark.

On opening night at the Millbrook Community Players' production, Charlotte Brown took on the role of the seemingly perfect Rhoda, all polite manners and a sweetness that belies a sinister underside. [The role is being played alternately by Lucy Wilson].

The drowning of a classmate at a school picnic, a boy who had won a penmanship medal that Rhoda thought she deserved and for whose death she shows no emotion, makes the girl's mother Christine [Nicole Allen] suspect that her daughter knows more than she divulges. -- Beset by recurring nightmares, Christine wonders if her dreams might be something more: a repressed memory of her own childhood that might impact her daughter's behavior.

Very much a reflection of the 1950s obsession with Freudian psychology and the debate between "nature vs. nurture" as the determining factor of one's behavior, The Bad Seed feels dated in both dialogue and character development, but is redeemed [in part at least] by old-fashioned plotting that keeps audiences guessing from moment to moment.

Rhoda's outward demeanor that manipulates others to give in to her politeness has fooled almost everyone: her father [Corey Jackson], neighbor/landlady [Vicki Moses], school mistress [Karla McGhee], crime novelist [John Chain], all succumb to her manipulations. -- The only one who sees through Rhoda's guise is handyman Leroy [Michael Snead], who taunts her privately.

The drowned boy's parents [Craig Greer and Rae Ann Collier] show their grief in quiet demeanor and drunken outspokenness respectively. -- And Christine's father [John Collier] clears up some of his daughter's past regarding the truth behind her nightmares.

There are several plot twists and revelations about both Rhoda and Christine that drive The Bad Seed to its tragic and unexpected conclusion and keep the audience's attention in director Joe Nolin, Jr.'s production, but some hesitant dialogue, static staging, and over-long scene changes allow audiences to disengage from the important action and themes.