Bad Seed Breaks Ground

Beginning as a seemingly monotonous high school play with robotic actors, Maxwell Anderson’s Bad Seed, a two hour and forty-five minute theatre classroom performed in Tang and directed by Katie Nadworny ’05, evolved, along with its actors, and finished with incredible finesse. Though the story was frustrating at times, the precision with which the actors captured their roles helped explain the complicated plot with clarity. Set in an unnamed, small town somewhere in the American South, Bad Seed is the story of a family’s struggle with identity, heritage, and murderous genes. As the show opens, the audience is introduced to the Penmark family. Christine, the mother, and her seemingly angelic daughter, Rhoda, are bidding Rhoda’s father farewell as he returns to the army. Solemn, yet sweet, this opening reveals nothing of the family’s misfortunes. Soon, the scene speeds up with the arrival of a more boisterous crowd from the upstairs of the Penmark’s apartment complex, Monica Breedlove and her brother, Emory Wages. Next, we meet the janitor, Leroy; it is with his presence that the audience first becomes skeptical of Rhoda’s innocent perfection as she screams at him. As the story evolves, the façade of Rhoda’s innocence fades, and she is revealed as murderous and conniving. Rhoda kills a schoolmate because he won a medal that she thought she deserved. Destroyed with sorrow, the parents of the child, Mr. and Mrs. Daigle, try desperately to solve the mystery of their son’s murder. Aided by the school principle, Mrs. Fern, their search leads them to the home of Rhoda Penmark. Upon this first visitation, they discover nothing. Rhoda’s mother, Christine, is completely oblivious to Rhoda’s malice and assures them that her child could never be involved. However, the Daigles’ accusation of Rhoda illuminates a side of Rhoda that Christine was not familiar with. As Christine investigates her daughter, Rhoda admits to killing her schoolmate. Troubled by this, Christine investigates further and discovers that Rhoda has inherited a recessive gene that ‘deletes’ the human emotion of feeling. Though this gene is not apparent in Christine herself, the discovery of her adoption leaves her with the information that her mother was a serial killer with the same gene Rhoda possesses: both were born “bad seeds.” Fearing for Rhoda’s life should anyone discover her murderous tendencies, Christine gives her daughter a fatal dose of sleeping pills. Wishing to die with her child, she then shoots herself. The stage goes dark. Though a shocking moment, the play continues. When the lights come up, the upstairs neighbors are pondering what Christine could have been thinking when she committed those terrible acts. Then, in the greatest twist of all (the one that makes the audience really want to jump up on stage) is the reemergence of Rhoda upon the line “and to think, had we not heard the gunshot, we’d have lost Rhoda too!” Though I was skeptical of the performance at first, as the show developed, and the character of Rhoda was revealed, I saw the care Emma Dorsey ’06 put into her portrayal of Rhoda Penmark. Keeping her girlish sentiment throughout the show, she also fused her innocence with her evil intentions. Posie Wilkinson ’04, who played Christine Penmark, was convincing as a mother struggling with the safety of her child versus the safety of society. Though she and Dorsey upstaged one another a few times during the show, each actor’s portrayal of her character remained constant and strong as the show evolved. Towards the end, Wilkinson had a powerful breakdown scene, wherein her character loses mental control. Though Wilkinson delivered the panic of the scene well, some lines were lost amid the screams of the tantrum. Travis Green ’04 played both Colonel Kenneth Penmark and Christine’s father, Travis Bravo. Though I would have liked to see Green take more command onstage, his role as Mr. Bravo was crucial to the show because he delivered the news of Christine’s true heritage, thus revealing Rhoda’s ‘disorder.’ Another crucial foil for Rhoda’s wickedness was Leroy, who was played by Adam Holt ’05. Holt truly committed to his character, and it was obvious to the audience that he had built the role from toe up, even giving Leroy a distinct accent that further separated him from the other characters. Holt effectively used body language as well to convey an ominous aura about his character; though, in comparison to characters such as Christine, he was a man of few words, Holt’s presence onstage was very powerful. Mrs. Fern and Mr. Tasker were played by Elizabeth Ryznar ’06 and Matthew Brennan ’05, respectively. Each effectively depicted their characters as the reserved “brains” of the character pool and, though both maintained a distance from the actual tumult of the show, each was key in developing the plot. Monica Breedlove and her brother, Emory Wages, were played by Katie O’Reilly ’04 and George Hattemer ’06 (who also played the reserved Mr. Dwight Daigle). This duo served as the comic relief of the play. While O’Reilly was lively and boisterous, Hattemer stayed a bit more introverted, making hilarious facial gestures to accompany his cynical remarks throughout the show. The juxtaposition of these two actors radiated humor whenever they were onstage. Ali Schouten ’04 played Mrs. Daigle, the drunken, miserable mother of the boy Rhoda killed. Schouten has an undeniably strong stage presence: whenever she graced the stage, or stumbled on it, she absorbed all audience attention. Every remark, down to her tears through scenes when she spoke of her lost son, was saturated with sincere emotion and made Schouten’s performance incredibly believable. Bad Seed was thoroughly enjoyable. The actors’ ability to stir emotion (even if it was aggravation) within the audience is a sign in itself that the performance accomplished what every play attempts to do: convince the audience it is real. As Katie Purcell ’05 commented, “after I left I thought about the play all afternoon…I couldn’t get it out of my head!” As disturbing as it was intense, Bad Seed was a great production all around.