The discussion has been had regarding whether true horror can be achieved on stage (whether the production itself is good or not). With the flop adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie and a lackluster Night of the Living Dead script, there seems to be a leaning to failure. In time for the holiday, Gaslight presents The Bad Seed written by Maxwell Anderson and directed by Catina Sundvall. Based on the 1954 novel by William March, it follows the story of the Penmark family. In particular, the mother, Christine and her “perfect” daughter, Rhoda. As tragedy strikes more than once, a cloud of suspicion forms over Rhoda and it is up to her mother to fight through her doubts and the opinions of those around her to discover the truth. (Note: I have never seen the movie or read the script).
To start, I was taken back by the lack of any ambient noise. It was deathly silent throughout the show. While I first thought of this as a criticism, I began to wonder if music would somehow take away from the vibe of the setting. In the end, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.
The set itself was well decorated, if traditional. Personally, I enjoyed the yellow walls with brown trim. Along with the set dressing, it gave me an antique feeling, which worked in harmony with the time of the story. Nothing looked “out of place” and other than the common problem of a sofa blocking a portion of the acting, the spacing worked fluidly.
As characters were introduced, I was pleasantly surprised by the costuming. Though I can’t confirm the authenticity of all the pieces in relation to the period, most seem tailored to fit the actors (though they came from costume storage) and support their characterizations. Normally, costumes aren’t a point of interest for me, but in this show everything helped visually and with the storytelling. Not only stylish in most cases, but also purposeful.
Now, onto the biggest factor; acting. Across the board, I found the acting consistent, effective and interesting. While it might be a bit verbose to mention them all, there were highlights. Gaslight newcomer, Tree Perkins, played the drunken neighbor, Mrs. Daigle. The story does not lend itself to much levity, yet Perkins was able to manifest a chuckle while not taking away from the dire circumstances of her scenes. Alex Ewald was cast as Leroy, the caretaker. What was exceptional here was all the nuances that Ewald gave his character, which isn’t done far enough on stage in shows (in my opinion). Gestures, body language, speech; this character was real enough to spark a mix of funny, odd, and creepy. Chelsea Davis also managed to accomplish quite a bit as the mom, Christine. Over the last several years, I have found Davis more entertaining in comedy. However, this role convinced me she is fully capable of handling heavier stories. There was a way that leading ladies carried themselves in movies prior to the 60’s and she was able to embody that delicate nature. This is important as the character’s life begins to unravel around her, we need to see a stark contrast by the end. The arch of this character was handled quite well and brings the climax of the show where it needs to go. Finally, we have Jersey Garrett as Rhoda; the possible bad seed referred to in the title. This young actress has a lot to carry to interpret old-fashioned dialogue in a way that translates for now. I would say she was successful in all moods of the character, but excelled when facing off with another character. This is fine, as I think that’s what the audience pays for! She has a great expressive face for the stage, which easily reads across the stage. Hopefully, she will continue to sharpen her skills on the stage, as she has everything it takes to continue getting good roles. These were not the only strong performances on the stage, just highlights.
Sundvall gave good direction and believable blocking. The characters moved with purpose and locations made sense. I was never lost on what a character was doing.
In the end, I am not convinced it is a “scary” play. It WAS, however, intense and suspenseful. The conclusion was shocking and other than some slight lagging during a scene change (music may or may not have helped here), it moved well. It does contain some suggestive violence and mature themes, so use your discretion. This bad seed was a good thriller, and I am certain audiences will be genuinely entertained. (580-234-2307 for tickets)