By David Dixon
One of the few venues in San Diego County currently providing a Halloween-themed play is Lamplighter’s Community Theatre, where theatregoers can watch a new version of the popular horror drama, “The Bad Seed” through Nov. 20.
Based on the 1954 novel and later adapted into an Academy Award-nominated movie, a homemaker Christine Penmark (Melanie Williams), believes that her daughter, Rhoda (Catherine Singer) is a smart and caring child. After a tragic drowning near Rhoda’s school, Christine starts to realize that her kid is a dangerous murderer.
Having the rendition start on Halloween weekend was an intentional choice by the director/head of Lamplighter’s playwriting committee, Kristen Fogle. “Everybody is looking for that creep factor around this time of year,” she said.
Most shows that Fogle and the two leads have worked on were not as dark as “The Bad Seed.”
“I primarily direct comedies,” Fogle said. “I have a background in rhetorical studies and it’s interesting to get into the text and also talk to actors about their characters. There is more room for that here than in a Neil Simon joke fest.”
Singer’s favorite part about working on “The Bad Seed” is acting with other performers. “Getting to rehearse with other people is a lot of fun,” she said.
In the past, Williams focused more on musical theater than straight drama. She enjoys getting to depict a deeply layered protagonist.
“I like delving into a complex character,” she said. “You have to tap into a lot of different sides of yourself to make the role authentic or relatable. It’s a good challenge to portray a person who isn’t two-dimensional and doesn’t just sing or dance.”
Fogle’s direction features some retro touches.
“Although not quite like a black and white motion picture, there are some black and white elements,” she said. “The costumes, set, and lighting are mostly black, white, grey, and pale with just small spots of color. The visuals should hopefully give everyone a little bit of a throwback feel.”
There have been plenty of tales with more explicitly violent content than what is featured in Maxwell Anderson’s script. William March’s was considered shocking and realistic during the mid-20th-century.
“By today’s standards, Rhoda is not considered the scariest villain in the world,” Fogle said. “Patrons of a certain age remember this adventure the same way some of our parents remembered ‘The Exorcist’ and other horror movies. Those that saw the film or the Broadway interpretation were really freaked out by a little girl committing such atrocious acts.”
One particular aspect that freaks Williams out is Rhoda’s sociopathic behavior. “For me, a scene that is frightening occurs when Rhoda nonchalantly talks about being excited by someone drowning,” she said. “She has no remorse or pity for her actions.”
A timeless theme that connects with Fogle, revolves around “nature vs. nurture.” “That particular debate is still going on in a different form,” she said. “I think that’s why people are still drawn into the narrative.”
“I hope audiences see the great cast in a show that hasn’t been staged often in a long time,” she said. “I think they’ll be surprised and delighted by the caliber of acting.”
Horrible behavior and savage moments have the potential to add up to a wickedly haunting night. There might not be any ghosts or zombies in “The Bad Seed,” but that doesn’t mean Rhoda won’t be a chilling and scary antagonist.
—David Dixon is a freelance theater and film writer. Reach him at email@example.com.