Review: The Bad Seed @ Ringwald Theatre

Review: The Bad Seed @ Ringwald Theatre

“The Bad Seed”
Who Wants Cake?
The Ringwald Theatre, Ferndale
Through March 16, 2009

Review by Heather Bonner

alt textRhoda Penmark (Joe Plambeck) sits on her mother
Christine’s (Jamie Warrow) lap, likely pondering
something evil in the Who Wants Cake? production
of “The Bad Seed” at the Ringwald Theatre.

“Over-the-top” may be an understatement where the Who Wants Cake? version of “The Bad Seed” by Maxwell Anderson is concerned. Although the Ringwald Theatre doesn’t end up spattered with the blood of an 8-year-old girl’s killing spree, the body count does rise rather quickly offstage during the two-hour performance. It’s an awkwardly funny, blatantly theatrical, stereotypically-characterized portrayal of the horrible choice the helpless mother of a psychotic killer has to make: turn in her daughter or terminate the murderous bloodline herself.

In the mid-1970s in Tallahassee, Fla., Rhoda Penmark (Joe Plambeck), with her frilly pink dress and innocent blond braids, is a smart, young girl, who professes herself to be at the top of her class in penmanship. But when a fellow classmate wins the only gold medal her teacher hands out for the skill, Rhoda has to figure out how to reclaim the medal for herself. It isn’t long before this same boy winds up dead at a class picnic, and Rhoda’s mother Christine (Jamie Warrow) begins to suspect her own daughter’s involvement in his death. Especially when she finds the medal in Rhoda’s box of startlingly dangerous prized possessions.

The show is riddled with excessively theatrical characters with their own brands of mental instability! First, there are the meddlesome upstairs neighbors, exaggeratedly curvaceous “Auntie” Monica (Melissa Beckwith) and her flaming yet barely repressed homosexual brother Emory (Dan Morrison). Ms. Fern (Christa Coulter) is the anxious and fidgety teacher with an undeniable lesbian infatuation for Christine. Then there are Leroy (Jon Ager), the sick-minded apartment handyman, and Christine’s father Richard Bravo (Dan Morrison), a former yet still-adored celebrity with a cheesy British accent. And, of course, there is the dead boy’s mother Mrs. Daigle (Laurel Hufano), who drinks herself into such a stupor she can’t bring herself to change out of her nightgown, fix her chaotically smearing makeup, or take her hair out of a net and curlers.

Director Joe Bailey must have had a ball putting this show together! It is so wacky and overdone, even technical mistakes and flubbed lines become a public joke with the audience and add to the ambiance rather than detract from it. With their exaggerated physical comedy and zany personalities, the characters make a mockery out of murder and violent tendencies in the youth of their time. Bailey took the individualized, chaotic characters and wove them into a cohesive and colorful cast to tell Rhoda’s off-color story.

Shows like this require a lot of their actors because every part is in competition with the others. Everyone has to give their all to match the nuttiness of their fellow cast members’ characters, but somehow the actors still have to maintain a similar level of energy so no one steals the show. Of course, favorite characters will often emerge, regardless of the actors’ best intentions, but the cast of “The Bad Seed” manages to accomplish this level of equality fairly well. Each character is vivid and hilarious and the actors playing more than one part give equal energy and effort to both. Talk about your character study – this is almost over-saturated with personality!

And to compliment their colorful natures, their costumes completed each character masterfully. Everything from colors to styles to prints to fit filled out the characters and gave each personality his or her own unmistakably stereotypical look, which told the audience what to think of them before they even opened their mouths. Michelle Decker, credited with “special costuming,” really took this show to another level visually and half of the fun in seeing it is looking at the costumes.

So, it is a good thing the set doesn’t try to compete with the flashy actors inhabiting it. The Ringwald has a very open stage configuration and it is an effective setup for the action. The stage is comprised of two points of entry on either side – the entrance to the apartment and an implied kitchen offstage – with a living room in between where the majority of the action takes place. The props fill in the rest of the stage with various knick-knacks and sundries to make the home look more lived-in. All together, the set was unobtrusive, realistic and didn’t detract from the action, and this effectiveness, rather than distracting flashiness or utter uniqueness, is what makes it worth mentioning.

“The Bad Seed” is a strangely hilarious and overly theatrical exaggeration that will have you asking yourself if it’s okay that you’re laughing. But if you’re looking for awkward humor, cross-dressing, crazy wigs and outfits, and scarily brilliant, homicidal little girls, the Ringwald is definitely where you want to spend your evening.

“The Bad Seed” runs February 20 – March 16 at the Ringwald Theatre at 22742 Woodward Ave in Ferndale. Tickets range from $10 – $15. Shows are Friday through Monday at various times available on their website: