The film The Bad Seed opened in 1956. With a screenplay by Maxwell Anderson, based on an earlier stage play and a novel before that, the plot centers on the murderous actions of an eight-year-old girl, Rhoda. With dramatic music and histrionic acting better suited for Broadway than the film screen, the black and white movie appropriately met its destiny; it became a camp classic.
The mixed gender and highly creative Late Night Theatre has centered their most recent spoof around the film. The Bad Seedling (adding three letters to alter the title) opened June 24 to an oversized crowd enthusiastic enough to brave the close proximity on a sultry summer evening.
Kenneth Penmark (Chris Wright) has to temporarily leave his wife, Christine Penmark (Corrie Van Ausdal), and daughter, Rhoda (Ron Megee) because of orders from the military. Rhoda attends a school outing where a boy in her class “accidentally” drowns. Christine learns that Rhoda murdered the boy. Over cocktails with friends, Christine discusses theories of genetic predisposition to crime. A grand, talkative and consistently hungry landlady, Monica Breedlove (Gary Campbell), offers Christine amateur psychoanalysis and Christine admits suspecting that her parents adopted her.
Director Carol Megee and the energetically irreverent cast creatively tapped into the enormous satirical potential of the story. The film itself presents tasteful 50’s interiors and clothing, contrasting the morbid story with the outward show of normalcy. The design staff for The Bad Seedling made the period visuals come to life. Gary Campbell designed the costumes, color coordinating each appearance of mother and daughter. This required regular costume changes — but Late Night Theatre always brilliantly makes a problem into a joke. For example, Megee enters for the picnic scene and announces “My costume change is done, you can stop this scene now.”
Jon “Piggy” Cupit’s set stunningly re-envisions the elegance of the film’s bric-a-brac.
Against a backdrop of 1950’s styling and interspersed in the dated film dialogue, the actors season the evening with breaks of character, surprisingly humorous profanity and physical antics. Megee delivers Rhoda’s lines with a cultured insanity then occasionally bursts out of the mold with explicatives. In the movie, Rhoda in one scene insouciantly dons roller skates and rolls away. Megee puts on the skates and proceeds to topple over repeatedly.
Van Ausdal pleases the eye in Campbell’s creations. She floats with an air of polished good taste. She even crumbles into hysteria without messing up her hair. When Christine finds out from her father that she was adopted, Van Audal’s complete breakdown deserves ovation for its sheer oddity.
The Bad Seedling marks a departure for Late Night Theatre. Their productions, no matter what film they satire, have always included several production numbers with song and dance, making movies such as The Birds or The Stepford Wives into short musicals. The Bad Seedling contains only one song and dance, “Que Sera Sera,” randomly inserted (this works) for Van Ausdal to sing as the rest of the cast sways behind her.
Though entertaining, charmingly witty and worth seeing, The Bad Seedling stays heavily reliant on the original script. Occasionally, the scenes drag on with exposition without enough added humor to maintain interest.
The Bad Seedling runs through July 30 at Late Night Theatre,
1531 Grand. Call 816-235-6222 or visit www.latenighttheatre.com.
Exodus International strives to serve as a beacon of hope for the tortured souls, gay men and women who seek only to be right in the eyes of the Lord. Freedom at Last in Wichita, Higher Ground in Billings, MT, and TREK Ministries in Woodstock, GA, all have live-in programs of various lengths (from six weeks to a year commitment) where a gay person can go, stay, pray, counsel and come out (so to speak) heterosexual.
A feature film But I’m a Cheerleader (2000, Lion’s Gate Films) created a comic version of a gay retraining program. The Showtime series Queer as Folk developed a plot line around a character that attended meetings meant to convert his gayness. Both of these offerings ignored a vital component to Exodus and the live-in ministries previously mentioned.
Jesus.Exodus International was established in 1976, to pursue the questionable goal of “rehabilitating” gays. A theatrical realization of the process is overdue, and a local theatre group, AmberWAVES Theatre Company presented, June 23-25 at the Westport Coffeehouse, the play ExChanges about a live-in ex-gay ministry in Marin County, CA.
The playwright, John David Schramm, based the work on his own experiences in a similar ministry. Dillon (Tom Sawyer) addresses the audience as his ministry, the Church of the Gathering Harvest. Several men introduce themselves, quoting scripture. The central character CJ, played by Luke Fairbank, hails from Kansas. Four men join him for a one-year journey from gay to straight.
Marcus (Jestin Lentz) rooms with CJ and expresses disgust at the program and does many shirtless bench presses. Actor Robert Crane brings some refreshing humor to the role of Regis, an older, relatively inexperienced man with a sharp tongue. Trent (Justin Zimmerman) proves the HIV positive participant and Paul (JR Benmuvhar) represents the repentant drag queen.
Schramm’s play unearths visceral polarities in our world. Dillon’s advice to the men includes some powerful rituals such as using introspection to determine what stands in your way and ritualizing a release of what you don’t need. In prayer, Trent says, “God, I really want this program to work. I don’t trust your people as much as I trust you.”
Later Trent asks Dillon, “If God can change my sexuality, why can’t He change my HIV status?”
Roommates Luke and CJ after expressing platonic affection and graduate to erotic connection just before intermission.
The AmberWAVES production showed courage and heart but manifested as an amateur effort. Much of the acting was realistic but one-dimensional. Few of the actors other than Crane managed to get laughs, and the idea of a group of gays guys acting straight holds enormous potential for humor. But the ambitious ensemble broke ground on a charged topic, tackling important material
For more information about upcoming productions from
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.
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