Silver Spring Stage does it again.
With Adam Rapp’s The Metal Children, now playing at the Stage through November 21, they once again venture outside DC’s theatrical “safe space” and offer Washington audiences a provocatively curious tragicomedy.
We are all acquainted with that age old expression “art imitates life,” or, to use the Aristotelian term, “mimesis.” Using life as a referent, the writer shapes his story accordingly. Thank you Aristotle.
Then, in his essay “The Decay of Lying,” Oscar Wilde explores the possibility that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” In other words, the culture wars are real: the battle is on for hearts and minds: that music in your bedroom, that painting above your bed, that story echoing in your mind’s eye affects your do(s) and don’t(s) even more than you might think.
In The Metal Children Rapp brings that delicate and sometimes explosive relationship between art and life, artist and audience, onto the stage. And the boundary between victim and perpetrator has never been so profoundly blurred.
Writer Tobin Falmouth has published “The Metal Children,” a successful novel for young adults that ventures into the forbidden realm of female sexuality. Stacey Kinsella, a high school English teacher somewhere in “the heartland”, has introduced his students to its challenging text. When the school board confiscates the books, student Vera Dundee organizes a massive protest against school censorship that includes the formation of a female tribe whose members vow to become pregnant.
And that’s only the back story. What follows is a semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional, semi-fantastical tale of mysterious proportions.
If it leaves you baffled at times, it is because the text’s plot points sometimes allude the audience, making inexplicable leaps, or simply leaps that defy credulity. Nevertheless, piqued your interest will be, and the next time art comes knocking on your door you’ll hesitate just a little before letting her in.
Kevin Dykstra plays Tobin with a deep cynicism, and an equally deep alienation from the world. Given Tobin’s journey into the heart of darkness, however, where men in pig-masks and young women in heat lure him into dangerous and forbidden realms, I sometimes wanted his loneliness to be even more profound and irrational.
Brendan Murray plays Stacey Kinsella, giving the young, enthusiastic teacher an earnestness that contrasts perfectly with Tobin’s despair.
Alison Donnelly takes on Vera Dundee, and her performance rivets. She not only handles Vera’s powerful, philosophical monologues articulately and with an idealistic conviction, but her intimate scenes with Tobin are emotionally engaging and authentic.
Finally, Paulette Lee plays Vera’s aunt, Edith Dundee. She captures the character’s simple, good nature effortlessly.
Richard Fiske, Samantha Sheahan, Kelsey Murray, and Shelby Sours play a host of characters, giving each their moment to shine.
Ms. Sheahan’s Tami Lake shines brightest. She erupts in an evangelical apotheosis during the school boar meeting on Tobin’s novel: a divine vision enters her body and the resulting expression leaves the auditorium speechless.
Director Sarah Scafidi handled the difficult text well, even if early on the show dragged a bit. Complex scene changes were handled well by the crew.
The production team (Sets by Austin Byrd, Lights by Paul Callahan, Costumes by Robert Croghan, and Sound by Niusha Nawab) created a real world context for the decidedly fantastical plotline.
As in all of Silver Spring Stage’s plays, however, it is the play that steps forth to be devoured. Rapp’s script has its share of flaws, but sometimes, as in Shakespeare, the content more than counters the dangling storyline or baffling character choice or ponderous absence.
The Metal Children plays through November 21, 2015 at Silver Spring Stage – 10145 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD, in the Woodmoor Shopping Center. For tickets, purchase them at the box office, or online.