PHOTO: Kevin Dykstra (Tobin Falmouth) and Alison Donnelly (Vera Dundee). Photo by Harvey Levine
REVIEW • BY STEVE LAROCQUE
Metal Children, now playing at Silver Spring Stage, has a lot to say about how society can punish a challenging work of art and the people who champion it.
Tobin Falmouth, a New York City author, has written Metal Children, an out-there young adult novel that has made its way into the high school curriculum of a middle-American town. The local populace, scandalized, has reacted by impounding copies of the book, and Stacey Kinsella, the English teacher who brought it into his classroom, has been summoned to defend Metal Children and its author at a town meeting. Stacey invites Tobin to come to town and participate; Tobin accepts.
Kelsey Murray (Pork Patrol Member). Photo by Harvey Levine.
He arrives to find the wall of his motel room covered with a graffiti quote from his novel, and the motel owner warns him to steer clear of a Christian vigilante group wearing Porky Pig masks and calling itself the Pork Patrol. You get the feeling that something very bad is going to happen soon.
Stacey Kinsella drops in to welcome Tobin. He recounts the harassment that his support for the book has brought him (and his fears of worse to come).
Vera Dundee, a precocious, attractive 16-year-old, shows up to voice her emphatic support. She has organized her high-school classmates in a show of solidarity with the novel’s main character that disturbs Tobin profoundly. But that doesn’t keep him from getting ‘way too involved with Vera before the night is over.
As if all that weren’t enough for one night, Tobin is brutally assaulted by a member of the Pork Patrol, and Act One finally ends.
The next evening, a badly banged-up Tobin limps to the town meeting, only to find Stacey unaccountably absent.
Left to right: Shelby Sours (Roberta Cupp), Samantha Sheahan (Tami Lake) and Richard Fiske (Otto Hurley). Photo by Harvey Levine.
He listens as Christian fundamentalist high-school student Tami Lake and Roberta Cupp, the chair of the English department, vilify Metal Children’s as a noxious threat to the community and its main character as a selfish, godless creature.
With Stacey still nowhere to be found, the job of defending Tobin and his novel falls to the feisty Vera, who insists that the responsibility of Art in a democracy is to hold a mirror up to society, and that the events recounted in Metal Children are happening here and now.
Finally comes Tobin, who drags himself to the podium and embarks on a rambling account of how he came to write the book at the end of a long downward spiral following his (now ex-) wife’s pregnancy and abortion, his addiction to pain killers, and rehab.
He explains that he wasn’t trying to do anything special; he was writing because he had to, and much that is attributed to the book, good and bad, is the product of his readers’ imaginations, not his intentions.
That’s pretty much it. The story could have ended (albeit abruptly) right there, but the playwright has a lot more to offer us. Tobin and Roberta Cupp engage in off-line polemics; word comes that Stacey barely escaped death (possibly by foul play) the night of the town meeting and is in the hospital; Tami Lake meets an untimely, un-Christian end; and Tobin is once more attacked by the Pork Patrol, landing in the hospital next to Stacey, where they trade accounts of their troubling dreams.
Eventually, Tobin returns to New York City, where he finds that Metal Children has become a huge seller, and that his agent wants to entice rival publishers into a bidding war for Tobin’s next novel. Rampant success.
Finally, Vera brings Tobin the biggest surprise of all, the result of their night of passion in the motel.
Kevin Dykstra (Tobin Falmouth), Brendan Murray (Stacey Kinsella). Photo by Harvey Levine.
All in all, a busy story, not easy to put across. As written, some of the characters are cardboard, some complex; the conventional ending belies much of the creepy development.
Director Susan Scafidi and her cast acquit themselves well, aided by expeditious transitions between Austin Byrd’s ingenious sets, keeping the audience involved in a story that could easily have run out of gas.
As Tobin Falmouth, Kevin Dykstra is exceptional. Explaining at length how he came to write his book, he progresses from fuzzy rambling to powerful, frustrated assertion, making you believe every word of it.
As Vera, Alison Donnelly is magnetic and assured, evoking the idealists of the 1970’s communes – although you have to wonder if a 16-year-old could pull this off in real life.
Samantha Sheahan delivers a powerful turn as Tami Lake, though there’s only so much you can do with a one-dimensional character. Ditto for Shelby Sours as Roberta Cupp and Richard Fiske as Otto Hurley, the MC of the town meeting. (Fiske’s other character, agent Bruno Binelli, is gloriously tacky.) Thankfully, Paulette Lee and Brendan Murray, as the motel owner and English teacher, are grounded, believable adult characters.
See Metal Children for the acting, because it’s very good, but, as for the story, bring a grain of salt.
By Adam Rapp; directed by Sarah Scafidi; produced by David Gross and Lennie Magida; set by Austin Byrd; costumes by Robert Croghan; lighting by Paul Callahan; sound by Niusha Nawab. At Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. Through November 21. Running time: 2 hrs, 25 min (10 min intermission).
Cast: Kevin Dykstra, Richard Fiske, Samantha Sheahan, Shelby Sours, Paulette Lee, Brendan Murray, Alison Donnelly, Kelsey Murray