Pretty little Rhoda Penmark is the apple of her mother’s eye, yet beats the boy next door to death with a pair of her shoes over a penmanship medal.
For a bad seed, she is bad indeed.
Scott Gremillion directs the Lauren-Reilly Eliott Company in their performance of "The Bad Seed," the 1954 play by American playwright Maxwell Anderson, adapted from the novel of the same name by American writer William March. A dark drama that raises questions about who we are and exactly what should be done about it, it’s a marked departure from recent LRE productions.
“I read the script and said, 'This is great. We gotta do this,'” said Cooper Helm, co-founder of LRE. “We wanted to do another genre, go another direction, and who doesn’t like a good suspense thriller? There’s a whole range of human emotion that goes through it.”
“You want to take the audience for a ride. They need to be caught off guard.”
It’s likely they will be, for watching Rhoda in her white anklets and patent leather Mary Janes manipulate her mother is no laughing matter, although Gremillion says otherwise.
“It’s the comedy that comes with human experience,” he said. “If you’re looking for truth, there will be comedy. You’ll be laughing despite yourself.”
Nervously, that is.
Suggested to LRE by the late Bob Sidman, the Pulitzer-nominated play focuses on beleaguered mother Christine Penmark (played by Katryn Schmidt) who gradually suspects her daughter (played by Amy Fink) has everything to do with a spate of deaths. Set in 1954 with period scenery and costumes , Christine tries to love her tiny femme fatale, for when she’s good, she’s very, very good. It’s just that when she’s bad, she’s horrid.
“She’s a child devoid of any human emotion, any connection,” said Schmidt. “She’s like a foreign entity.”
Not a mother in real life, Schmidt’s maternal anger and panic are truly spot on.
“It’s really challenging,” she said. “It’s an intense role and an intense production. You know it’s not real, but your body doesn’t. It affects you emotionally. Sometimes it gets so creepy, we ask Scott, ‘Is that what you want?'”
Initially, Schmidt said she wasn’t interested in the role of Christine until she met Fink and there was instant chemistry. Four children auditioned for Rhoda, with Fink the immediate choice. An angelic blond with braided hair, the fifth-grader attends Cathedral Carmel.
“I’ve met mean people,” said Fink. “But no one like this.”
And like most adult actors, she admitted that playing the villain is infinitely more entertaining. “It’s a lot more fun. I’ve never been in a hard play before, just musicals. The yelling part is challenging, even though I yell at my brother at home.”
Supporting actor Edward deMahy plays Leroy, the janitor fixated on the mature beyond her years Rhoda. Both have criminal minds which creates the bond.
“I’m kind of creepy in general,” he said. “Rhoda and I are a lot alike. We’re the smart ones, and we see through each other. We both like control. I’m enjoying it.”
Also appearing are Tami Durand, Catherine Arceneaux, Christy Leichty, Danny Ladmirault, Joe Riehl, Jacob White and Edward Duhon.
Despite the machinations of the macabre little girl, it’s not her story but the mother’s, and depicts the struggle of nature vs. nurture.
“The little girl is the catalyst in the drama,” said Gremillion. “Plus, it’s an easy selling point — the demon child.”
"The Bad Seed" is credited with the birth of its genre and inspiring "The Exorcist" and "The Good Son." The film version is recognized as one of the iconic thrillers in American cinema, and although female psychopaths have come and gone since, Rhoda was the shocker of her day.
As for viewing the characters through today’s lens, Gremillion cautions against it.
“Personally, I see it as a metaphor, I don’t want to politicize it,” he said. “My intent is to find what the writer was thinking. It gives me a lot of passion to work on the play. People need to experience it.”
So will you.
The Bad Seed opens Jan. 12 with a special premiere performance at Cité des Arts, 109 Vine Street, Lafayette. Tickets are $40 and includes dinner, drinks and an after-party. All other performances through Jan. 22 are $20, including Jan. 13, 14, 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m., and Jan. 15 and 22 at 2 p.m. For tickets and more information, go to LRETheatre.com.