Friday June 23rd 2017

“The Metal Children”

recommended  If you were an author/playwrightwho had one of your novels “banned” what would you do? Live with it? Argue your case? Or retaliate by writing a play about the topic in order to make people aware of towns and schools taking away your “freedom of speech”? Adam Rapp’s experience with his novel “The Buffalo Tree” was evidently the inspiration for his penning “The Metal Children” now onstage at Next  Theatre at he Noyes Cultural Arts center in Evanston. His book  was struck from a school in Pennsylvania which I am sure led to the writing of this play as it is about a writer, Tobin Falmouth ( well played by Sean Cooper) who has been informed that his novel “The Metal Children” has caused an uproar in a town called Midlothia, somewhere in America’s “heartland”. The school board led by Otto Hurley ( the always reliable Bradley Mott) has banned the book and locked them all up in a room in the church. The story is about teen girls who get pregnant and then abort the babies. They are dealt with by the town “pigs” and metal statues  of them erected in the fields and farms. The “pigs” are young men who don Porky Pig masks to do their dirty work.

Tobin, a sort of  loner, does not want to leave New York to defend his book but his literary agent Bruno ( deftly handled by Marc Grapey) convinces him to make the trip which will also take his mind off the fact that his wife has left him for her editor. He makes the trip and that is where he finds the turmoil that his work has caused between those who love his work and those who detest it.  The young girls who have signed a petition to reinstate his book, led by Vera ( a sharp performance by the lovely Caroline Neff) have taken to trying to get pregnant to prove a point. An instructor, Stacey Kinsella ( a powerful performance by Paul Fagen) feels that an author has the write to create without censorship and that the choice to select their reading material should be the choice of the students.

This is a contrived story that is well directed ( Joanie Schultz) and well acted, in particular the open meeting in the school auditorium with the audience feeling as if they are bearing witness to an actual “town meeting” type event. In this meeting we have the true Christian view from  Roberta Cupp ( Laura T. Fisher) an elder of the church and the student played to te extreme by Caitlin Collins ( who also takes on a few other roles) ,Vera, who believes in the book and the writer and then we hear from Tobin who has been beaten down in both mental and physical ways. His is a story that opens our eyes to his life and who he is and why he wrote “The Metal Children”  This is probably where Cooper shines the most. During his story he takes us deep into the character and allows us to have some feelings for him. Stacey was also supposed to speak for the book but was injured in  what might be called an accident when using Tobin’s car ( this was the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time). The other cast members,  Meg Thalken and Nicole Ripley completed the small town characters.

The story within the story- Vera’s wanting to have Tobin’s child and her desire to leave and find a place where young girls could make up their own minds and what happens to Tobin after he loses his fight with the school and the “pigs” ( he gets stabbed) all add to the finale of what happens after this trip. He returns to New York with a new look on life and starts anew , cleaning his apartment, not loafing around and in fact writes a new book which appears to be a true winner , but for the adult market instead of the young adult audience that his past books were written for. He also gets a surprise visit from Vera, one that will change him even more and will last with him forever. This is a strong production with a novel use of the stage by Schultz and a clever set by Chelsea Warren, solid lighting by Jared Moore and a wonderful array of props assembled by Maria Defabo.  Censorship is something that every writer should fear and should react to. The book that is banned in this play “The Metal Children” was not the real book, but based on the content of the play, I am sure that people with a strong religious background in rural America might react as these folks did. Knowing the minds of youngsters today- they might just defend the right of the author to say what he or she wants to say, so this could in fact really happen ( to a point).

Next theater might consider having some “talk-back” sessions after the play in order to allow audience members to get a better feel of what Rapp was saying and how the actors viewed or interpreted their characters. Meanwhile, “The Metal Children” will continue at The Noyes Cultural Arts Center located at  927 West Noyes in Evanston( just East of Ridge Avenue and north of downtown) through  May 8th with performances Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.,Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. ( there are some selected additional Saturday  shows at 4 p.m.-check out website)

Tickets range from $25-40 and are available by calling 847-475-1875 or online at www.nexttheatre.org

Parking is available and the Red Line stop is NOYES, just a half block to the building

                                                              

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