“The Bad Seed” stage play by Maxwell Anderson is based on the novel by William March. It’s old and it’s moldy. But the Majestic Repertory Theatre has blown off the dust for the second entry of its inaugural season.
The novel was published in April of 1954 and received a National Book Club Award; Maxwell’s play opened on Broadway in December of the same year for a decent run, and was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama—losing out to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” The Academy Award nominated 1956 film is, of course, the more recognized and celebrated version of “The Bad Seed.” But, there is no doubt this is a 1950’s era piece. The language feels stilted, and director Troy Heard has wisely lead his cast to embrace it within a stylized manner which helps this production succeed.
As Christine Penmark, Adriana Chavez commits to the melodramatic tone of the production. Her speech contains that slightly exaggerated delivery so familiar to many of the films of the era. Chavez brings the nurturing mother to bear yet fear of her daughter is still evident.
Joelie Mountain does a fine job as Rhonda Penmark. She switches from brat to sweetness in the blink of an eye while maintaining the latent lack of empathy for anything or anyone around her. She throws a tantrum one minute and happily skips out of the room the next.
She fools everyone except Leroy, the apartment complex maintenance man, played to perfection by E. Wayne Worley. He portrays himself to adults as a bit dimwitted, but gleefully taunts Rhonda. Worley’s layered performance leaves you wondering if Leroy is made of the same cloth but just hasn’t conjured up the courage to follow through.
Anita Beane Sande, playing Mrs. Daigle, the grief-stricken mother of the murdered schoolmate is another standout in the large cast. The woman anesthetizes her trauma at the loss of her only child with alcohol and Sande keeps the grief without wandering into a stereo-typical portrayal. She moves just slightly off-balance, allowing only a word here and there to come out slurred.
Troy Tinker is one of those consummate performers who uses every bit of his instrument on stage. As Richard Bravo, the deadly girl’s grandfather, Tinker telegraphs his guilt and denial over family secrets with the slightest of expressions and the smallest of body movements. As he’s forced to admit to complicity, his sorrow rises in stages like a volcano about to erupt.
As much as the play is about family dynamics, and an is-she-or-isn’t-she thriller, it’s a psychological treatise on nature versus nurture. This subplot comes in several mini-monologues delivered by Reginald Tasker, played by Dale Parry. Parry rises from his chair and moves to center stage of the 3/4-round set, his back to a portion of the audience, to pontificate. The repeated up-and-down feels unmotivated, quickly becomes tedious, and undermines the power of the words.
The remaining cast does a decent job with their roles on the well-designed set by Heard. While lighting for a standard play is typically lights up-lights down, designer Cory Covell adds a few treats along the way which work to the play’s advantage.
If you’re not familiar with the meaning behind the psychological phrase which lends itself to the play’s title, head on over for a bit of satisfying entertainment and enlightenment on the subject.
What: The Bad Seed
When: Thursday - Saturday 8pm; Sundays 5pm through December 17
Where: Majestic Repertory Theatre, 1217 South Main St.
Tickets: $20 - $23 (www.majesticrepertory.com)
Producer: Majestic Repertory Theatre; Director: Troy Heard; Lighting Design: Cory Covell; Costume Design: Kathy Wusnack; Prop Design: Armando Macias, Jr.; Stage Manager: Corey Covell