Grand Forks is in the middle of its fall theatre season, with “The Bad Seed” currently running at the Fire Hall and “Two Rooms” opening next Tuesday, Nov. 17 at UND.
The Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre production of “The Bad Seed” opened last weekend and continues Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. both this weekend and next at the Fire Hall Theatre in downtown Grand Forks. There’s also a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on Nov. 15. Tickets are $15, or $12 for students and senior citizens.
“The Bad Seed” is a classic of mid-20th century literature exploring various psychological explanations for behavior and especially criminal behavior. The original novel was adapted to the Broadway stage by UND alumnus Maxwell Anderson, which was in turn adapted (with some key changes to the ending) into an Oscar-nominated film in 1956.
The debate over whether people’s personalities are influenced more strongly by their environment or their heredity or something else continues to go on. “The Bad Seed,” as its title implies, follows the argument of a possibly latent but definitely hereditary tendency.
Loving parents Christine and Kenneth Penmark’s daughter Rhoda is a sweet, thoughtful, well-behaved, almost too-good-to-be-true little girl of about 11 years old. She is not only devoted to her parents, but excels at all her schoolwork. The problem is, she is also intensely devoted to herself and has an increasingly sinister preoccupation with getting whatever she wants by whatever means possible.
When another boy in class wins the medal for penmanship that Rhoda feels she deserved, he suddenly is found drowned at a school picnic and his medal is mysteriously missing. The school has its suspicions, and as things begin to unfold, Rhoda’s mother soon begins to realize that her perfect little girl may well be a perfect little serial killer.
The Fire Hall’s production, directed and designed by Ben Klipfel, is nicely staged. The costumes, props and set evoke the 1950s beautifully, except for the 1970s-era telephone and its 1990s-era electronic ringtone. A cast of nine plays the eleven characters effectively, with generally good performances that get better as the play goes on, and a couple of notable ones.
Megan Lonski is outstanding and truly moving as Hortense Daigle, the grieving mother who has turned to alcohol after the drowning of her only son. The rest of the cast delivers appropriate but more theatrical performances. Young Claire Thompson demonstrates a strong stage presence and obviously relishes her role as the evil little Rhoda, helping carry the show. Jenny Morris also does a good job throughout as Rhoda’s troubled mother Christine, who is really the central character of the script.
Jeff Weatherly is fine as Kenneth, Christine’s husband and Rhoda’s father, but shows a bit more depth in his second-act role of Richard Bravo, the father of Christine. Mare Thompson (real-life mother of Claire) provides some much-needed comedy relief as Monica, the Penmarks’ landlady, a devotee of Freudian analysis, unabashedly devoted to little Rhoda, and perhaps just a bit too attached to her own brother Emery. Ben Klipfel gives a jovial performance as mystery writer Reginald Tasker, and Nicole Quam makes the schoolmistress Miss Fern a believable blend of well-practiced concern and self-serving domination.
Ralph Swendseid is somewhat lower-key but quite effective as the apartment’s janitor who makes the mistake of teasing Rhoda about some incriminating coincidences. Some of the play’s best scenes are between the two of them, such as his comments about the blue electric chair awaiting bad little boys and a pink one for bad little girls. Santos Casarez III takes on the roles of both Monica’s brother Emery, and Mr. Daigle, Hortense’s husband. He seems more comfortable in the role of Emery, but his underplaying and quieter voice in both parts tend to contrast with the more theatrical style of the other actors.
“The Bad Seed” is one of those plays that have become a part of American culture, and the Fire Hall Theatre’s production provides a welcome opportunity to see the uncensored stage version rather than the more sanitized movie version. The North Dakota connection of the playwright is just one more reason to see it.
What: “The Bad Seed”
Where: Fire Hall Theatre, Grand Forks
When: Nov 12-14, 7:30 p.m; Nov 15, 2 p.m. matinee
How much: $12-$15
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