Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dark Lustre - The Metal Children - Play Review

The Metal Children - Vineyard Theatre - Off-Broadway - New York, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written and Directed by Adam Rapp
Runs until June 13th 2010

Adam Rapp wrote a young adult book that once got banned from a High School in the heartland of America, and now he has written a darkly funny but deeply disturbing play that takes that experience and takes it all to the next level.

Without trying to give away too much in the review, the story starts with Billy Crudup's Tobin Falmouth sitting in his messy apartment speaking to a camera. It's meant to be his statement to a the high school that is banning his controversial young adult novel, but when his agent convinces him to go to the small town himself, things start getting uncomfortably strange.

Tobin encounters those on both sides of the book banning issue, including a scared but supportive teacher Stacey (a terrific Connor Barrett), a teen who has taken his book a bit too seriously and literally (a confident Phoebe Strole), and a Christian mother (Betsy Aidem, almost unrecognizable from another character she plays earlier in the show) who is obviously against the book.

The play keeps adding layers of strange activities in the town as Tobin finds himself in the midst of an increasingly dangerous situation.

Tobin's reflections on the responsibility he and his novel holds, and the interpretations the townsfolks read into his book, becomes a gripping, thought-provoking, and truly chilling play, and one that really questions our responsibilities in free speech and guiding the youth.

Billy Crudup holds the lead strongly as his Tobin comes to grip with the domino affect his book has had on this small town. We see the town through Crudup's Tobin's eyes and Crudup manages to balance the neutral central figure and still imbue him with human imperfections. I've never seen enough of Crudup to understand his appeal (beyond tabloid fare), but his performance here is controlled and nuanced with a natural charisma that grabs you into this strange world Rapp is taking us on.

Strole (Spring Awakening) and Barrett (above) are outstanding as two very different townsfolks who believe in the book. Connor Barrett's sensitive and intelligent teacher Stacey avoids caricature and stereotypes and makes his sympathetic character all the more tragic in his situation. Susan Blommaert (a character actress you've seen EVERYWHERE) is fascinating as the local motel owner who reads and appreciates Tobin's book. The rest of the ensemble are terrific in multiple roles.

Rapp's play takes his real life situation and pushes the boundaries to extremes, building up some intensely dramatic and creepy moments. It nicely reveals the extreme novel Tobin has written which truly becomes questionable itself, and brings up many moral quandaries. Rapp's direction nicely balances the dark humour in between the truly dark and intense moments.

The major plot point that seemed to come out of nowhere was the moment Tobin and Strole's teenage Vera character decide to sleep together. Perhaps Strole and Crudup's chemistry wasn't right yet but it seemed a bit like a forced plot point that keeps the story moving, with results that work far better than this awkward set up.

The Metal Children, despite some minor quibbles, left me questioning our moral obligations to others, and left many lingering and provoking issues bouncing in my head. The solid cast and production keeps the play grounded in reality even when the outrageous and mysterious turns emphasize the extreme sides being demonized in Rapp's writing.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


Linda said...

I'm glad your eyes were opened to the amazingness that is Billy Crudup. He's been a favorite of mine since Almost Famous. I have to disagree with you about Tobin and Vera sleeping together. She had been planning it, so it didn't really come out of nowhere, and at first I thought it was ridiculous that he would do it, but after hearing his backstory, it made more sense, and I appreciated that he wasn't a totally likable character.

Vance said...

Yah, I understand Vera was planning it but it just didn't feel right that Tobin would succumb so easily. It didn't feel right, even with the back story. Though maybe that's the point.

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