Thursday, May 27, 2010

Crudup, and Crude


The Metal Children

Written and directed by Adam Rapp

Starring Billy Crudup, David Greenspan, Betsy Aidem, Connor Barrett, Susan Blommaert, Guy Boyd, Halley Wegryn Gross, Jessy Hodges, Phoebe Strole

Performances through June 13, 2010

Vineyard Theatre, 100 East 15th Street

No one can accuse Adam Rapp of subtlety. The Metal Children, based on his own experience, follows an author confronting narrow-minded school board zealots in a middle American small town who have banned his most famous young adult novel.

Tobin Falmouth lives alone in a Manhattan apartment after his wife leaves him. He’s months behind in writing his new book and feeling rudderless, so, on his agent’s advice, he drives 1000 miles to the burg of Midlothia and gets mixed up in more than he bargained for: impregnating Vera, a teen who adores him and his work; getting beaten and stabbed by a Porky Pig mask-wearing nutcase; and generally finding the divide between Conservative Christians and liberal authors to be wider than the Gulf of Mexico.

Rapp’s response to our red vs. blue state situation is more emotional than analytical: the reactionaries are crudely drawn, i.e., the head of the school board calls him “Tobin Foulmouth.” Only his hero is given any shading, and although it’s admirable that Rapp moves Tobin into morally questionable—and dramatically interesting—territory, he merely pays lip service to it. Teenage pregnancy, abortion, self-mutilation, murder and suicide are events in Tobin’s book being reenacted by the teens of Midlothia, but Rapp’s account is insufficiently probing to be satisfying drama and not risible enough to work as satire. It’s too bad, for an eloquent discussion of our divisive politics is sorely lacking right now. Instead, Rapp contentedly panders to his liberal audience with missives like one against Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, which garners unsurprisingly loud applause.

As Tobin, Billy Crudup looks totally out of it, which fits the man’s stunned demeanor. In his best scene, an off-the-cuff speech at the school board meeting, Crudup lays bare Tobin’s pent-up feelings about himself and his art far better than Rapp’s writing. But no other cast members overcome their stereotyped roles: David Greenspan too gleefully sinks his teeth into Tobin’s agent, ending up caricaturing a caricature, while Phoebe Strole (Vera) seems to have been directed to ape Ellen Page in Juno, a lazy decision by Rapp. Although decently staged by its author, The Metal Children promises far more than it delivers.

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