The Bad Seed @ The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves

In the first half of the last century, Maxwell
Anderson labored earnestly to restore verse drama to the American theatre. His subjects ranged from England’s Tudor
dynasty to the sensational news of the day. He ended his career in the 1950s writing the
prosaic The Bad Seed. In its day, the play had some success both
on Broadway and in Hollywood. Freud and psychology had captured the public’s
interest in the 1950s, and this tale of a child who may have inherited the murderous
amorality of her grandmother features ruminations on the relative influences of heredity and
environment on a criminal’s character. Despite the shallow script and the need to
find a child who can play the precociously cunning Rhoda Penmark, you can see why community
theatres might want to revive The Bad Seed today. The role of Rhoda’s mother, caught in a
relentlessly tightening vice as she comes to know both what her child is and who her
real mother was, is a juicy one. She’s surrounded by several other characters
who offer their performers a chance to give their histrionic muscles a good workout. And the script is smoothly if sometimes stiffly
written, bearing with it at least the hope that even today a production might grip an
audience with the mounting suspense of the mother’s dilemma. The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves is the
latest community theatre to venture forth on that hope with their production of The
Bad Seed. With Barbara Mulligan’s direction, they largely
succeed. Susan Wylie, in the central role of Rhoda’s
mother, convincingly conveys the character’s emotional extremes. In Anna Drake, the company has found a child
who handles the role of Rhoda with confidence in its two extremes, charm and cunning. Shane Rudolph plays husband and father Col.
Kenneth Penmark, mostly absent on military assignment. Ann Egenreither enlivens the stage, as usual,
playing the pseudo-sophisticated upstairs neighbor, with Scott Kester as her long-suffering
brother. Cami Ryan takes over the stage as the grieving,
inebriated mother of a classmate of Rhoda’s who has drowned on a school outing. Carl De Bord plays her patient husband, and
Carolyn Bergdolt is the head of the school. As Christine’s father, Dennis Crump carefully
relieves himself of a long-borne burden. David Rush is an admirer of the father’s work
as a journalist. And Thaddeus O’Donnell, playing the apartment
building’s handyman, teases Rhoda with creepy threats. Mark Moebeck designed the appropriatel three-wall
set. Debbie Love designed lights, as usual, Brittany
Henry the sound, and Laurie De Bord the costumes with the cast. The Bad Seed still can give its actors the
materials to give their audiences some thrills.

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