The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title The Bad Seed
Organization Sutter Street Theatre
Date(s) of show May 9-31, 2015
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review Is it conceivable that an 8-year-old girl could be born without the capacity for remorse or guilt? What would a mother do who believes that her child may have committed multiple murders? These are the questions that will keep your attention riveted throughout The Bad Seed. And you will be fascinated to see how the amorality of the little girl is portrayed and how the mother’s anguish grows. The Bad Seed is running at Sutter Street Theatre through May 31st, and I had the perverse pleasure of seeing it on Mother’s Day.

Caelyn Anderson is a fifth-grader who plays Rhoda Penmark, the 8-year-old girl who is “too good to be true.” Outwardly everything Rhoda does is right: she is obedient and loving, with perfect behavior at school. Yet her mother gradually – and then abruptly – learns the truth. Everything in this play revolves around the credibility of Rhoda, and Anderson does not disappoint. I never had the sense that she was overacting. On the contrary, she usually had a demeanor that was somewhere between tranquil and defiant, and that itself was fascinating to watch. And with Act One ending her mother, Christine, wonders whether Rhoda could be guilty of murder and twice repeats “It can’t be true.” She’s hugging Rhoda who is the only one facing the audience. And the little impish smile on Rhoda’s face, such a departure from her usual impassivity, shows a character that is not only heartless but soulless.

Important as the character of Rhoda is to the play, it is her mother, Christine, who is the focus of the drama. Lisa Matta plays the part of Christine Penmark, and it is her acting skill more than any other element except Caelyn Anderson’s Rhoda that makes this drama work. For two hours we see her growing doubts, concerns, and anxieties about her own past and what she doesn’t understand about Rhoda. Gradually, she is caught in a trap between her genuine love for her daughter and her perception of who and what Rhoda really is. So fundamentally, this drama is about the mother’s state of mind. She evolves from contentment to doubt and anguish, but there are many, many twists and turns along the way that are artfully presented. What I especially admired about Matta’s acting was that it involved her whole body – hands, arms, and posture, as well as her face and voice. And she had one tense monolog in which I found myself staring at her, transfixed.

Of course, the large supportive cast provide their share of acting that is good enough to draw you into this disturbing plot. Emily Simpson is notable as Monica Breedlove, the Penmark’s voluble landlady who buys Rhoda’s image of perfection. And Mark Joyner is equally interesting as the janitor who sees through Rhoda’s façade.

One of the lines of this well written play reads, “A wax rosebud or a plastic peach can look more perfect than the real thing.” It’s scary to imagine that a “perfect” child can be evil – especially on Mother’s Day.

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