No young adult novelist predicts that tragic events in his fictional story will actually become reality. American playwright Adam Rapp’s “The Metal Children” tells the tale of one such novelist, as the events of his fictional story involving an abortion, disappearance and suicide begin to occur in a small town called Midlothia after the publication of his book.
The Nomadic Theatre’s production of Rapp’s play premiered yesterday in the Davis Performing Arts Center, and will continue to run tonight, Saturday and from Jan. 27 to Jan. 30.
Encompassing dramatic, comedic and chilling elements, it is difficult to categorize the play in one neat genre. The events unfold through the perspective of a struggling author, Tobin Falmouth, played by Gregory Keiser (COL ’16), the writer of the eponymous young adult novel, “The Metal Children.” The book causes a stir in the town, prompting a religious local high school to ban it for its appalling scenes of violence and teen pregnancy.
The opening scene is comedic, set in a slovenly New York City apartment branded with Jack Daniels littering the shelves and a toothbrush in a cup of orange juice resting on the corner. With some convincing from his flamboyant, quirky agent, Bruto, played by Andrew Walker (SFS ’16), Falmouth makes a spontaneous decision to travel to Midlothia to defend his young adult novel, thus beginning his dramatic search to regain his center as both a writer and a human being in entirely unexpected ways.
Maddie Kelley (COL ’16), the show’s director, said the play is a thought-provoking meditation on modern feminism, exploring the town’s varying responses to abortion.
“I’m less interested in engaging with the politics of this play than I am the people — here, feminism is what endures in and between the politically divided characters,” Kelley said. “The most enduring message for me is that all young women need feminism, whether they reject the word or worship it.”
The production also marks Kelley’s debut as a director. Having previously acted in the troupe’s plays, Kelley said that she was attracted to “The Metal Children” because of its captivating characters.
“My initial response to the play was as an actor, as that is my background, so I was drawn to Rapp’s playful use of language and the specificity of his characters’ voices,” Kelley said.
In the play, each character has a distinct persona. Yet, despite their eccentricities, their multidimensional identities add a level of raw authenticity to their personalities, making it difficult to divide them into “good” and “bad.” In this manner, despite the radical nature of the players, the audience is able to empathize with each and every character. For instance, Falmouth is initially characterized as disheveled and lazy — his apartment is a mess, he has a certain fondness for drug and alcohol cocktails, and he can barely pay his rent. Yet, he later explains and almost justifies his slump when he tells the gripping story of his series of unfortunate events: the banning of his book, the decline of sales and, finally, the departure of his wife for her young editor. Bad luck seems to follow him even after he arrives in Midlothia, as he is tormented by invasive pranksters and even assaulted by violent youth.
Keiser, who plays Tobin, said that he enjoyed playing a multifaceted character who is deserving of the audience’s sympathy.
“Tobin is definitely a character that is easy to feel sorry for,” Keiser said. “He has gone through a lot of difficulties, but he is also self-pitying and sarcastic. … When Tobin eventually opens up to the other characters who are so raw in their emotional expression, it really pays off as the audience sees him finally taking things seriously.”
Full of unexpected twists and turns, the plot travels in entirely unpredictable directions that will no doubt leave the audience mesmerized. After he arrives at Midlothia, Falmouth is greeted and taken aback by motel owner, Edith, played by Vanessa Chapoy (COL ’18), who represents the stark contrast between the simplicity of small towns and the more modern New York City life. Her fiery, passionate niece, Vera, played by Amanda Weise (COL ’16), is the leader of a petition in support of Falmouth’s novel. In a particularly notable scene, she delivers a gripping monologue that highlights teenage pregnancy as a form of feminine expression, a method of controlling one’s destiny in a patriarchal world.
Conor Canning (COL ’16) takes on the role of Stacey Kinsella, an English teacher who was profoundly touched by the novel’s drastic challenging of norms. Kinsella’s character in the play represents the powerful potential of the written word, offering another experience and response to “The Metal Children.” As he so passionately declares to Falmouth in the play, “I did not read the book; the book read me.”
Yet another powerful performance is Emily Lett’s (COL ’17) role as Roberta Cupp, a devout member of the Christian coalition, the religious opposition to the novel’s acceptance. Cupp argues strongly against the normalization of the sins of abortion and teenage pregnancy. Quickly departing from the light-hearted ambiance present in the initial New York apartment scene, Falmouth finds himself amidst a flurry of violent beatings, stunning hospital visits and tragic suicides in this small town of Midlothia, leaving him gasping for breath at the end of the hurdle.
In addition to the cast’s strong acting, the visuals are memorable, highlighting the Nomadic Theatre’s impeccable attention to detail. From its costumes to the precise, calculated actions of its characters, “The Metal Children” is the kind of production that requires multiple viewings to completely absorb and appreciate every detail. The play immaculately balances the equilibrium of different emotions, providing comedic relief in the midst of provoking scenes of violence or sorrow.
With the numerous themes presented in this play, Keiser hopes it will raise dialogue on campus regarding the relation between religion and feminist issues.
“I think that Georgetown and the Jesuit community, as opposed to the fictional Good Church of Christ [in the play], are known for engaging in dialogue with every idea or viewpoint,” Keiser said. “I think that the Georgetown community … would find a productive conversation around this show.”