Playing three shows for one weekend only, “The Metal Children,” presented by the Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre, zealously engaged the audience at Shafer Street Playhouse with a combination of talent, wit and comicality.
“The Metal Children,” by Adam Rapp, was written to illustrate how the ever-pervading issue of censorship in our society is infiltrating the education system. According to director Daniel Braunstein, Rapp utilizes the real life experience of his own book, “The Buffalo Tree,” being banned in 2005 from the curriculum of a school in Pennsylvania, to tell a “beautifully honest and challenging story about the power of both language and literature.”
The story revolves around Tobin Falmouth, played by Dixon Cashwell, an author who evidently lets himself go after his wife, a fellow writer, leaves him for her editor. The play begins as Falmouth is attempting to prepare a video testimonial to protest the banning of his book “The Metal Children” from a high school. The story continues to unfold as he goes to the town of Midlothia to attend a school board meeting at which the banning of his book will be debated. The play certainly holds the attention of the audience with the cast’s lively portrayal of Rapp’s work. Each actor is given a considerable amount of time to represent a specific personality or respectably develop his or her character.
Edith Dundee, played by Brittany Clark, who manages the motel where Falmouth stays, enthusiastically demonstrates her knowledge of his book, although she is still not sure whether she is for or against it. These early scenes being to explain how Rapp is painting the picture of the polarizing division through several different interest groups that rally for or against the banning of the book. These interest groups are forthright in their religious, conservative or revolutionary views on the implications of the book being taught to young adults in the classroom.
Falmouth continues to receive visitors at the motel by other significant characters: Stacey Kinsella, played by Tyler McAnney, and Vera Dundee, played by Mariah Sweany. Kinsella is an English teacher who passionately advocates “The Metal Children” which initially starts up the controversy. He eventually becomes the target of the town vigilantes crusading against the book. Vera is Edith’s niece, Falmouth’s biggest admirer and an ardently dedicated leader of a group of high school girls who have taken up the fight in defending the book. They mimic events in “The Metal Children” such as deliberately getting pregnant and running away to form a commune. Vera and her followers reason through these choices as a means for young women to take charge of their destinies.
“Existentially speaking, aside from suicide, it’s the most meaningful choice a young woman can make,” Vera said to Falmouth. “We control our own fate. Not parents or priests or politicians.”
Introducing various provocative ideas in the first act about the power of literature to inspire such behavior, the second act opens with the school board meeting in which four theatrical speeches are given: two supporting the banning of the book with arguments decorated by Christian morals, one defending the keeping of the book with the argument for aesthetic and personal moral power and the last given by Falmouth himself, blatantly and helplessly arguing that the motivation for writing his book solely originated from the abortion his ex-wife chose to have.
With a number of other scenes displaying a practically illegal seduction, a masked vigilante terrorizing the main character, one murder attempt and a suicide, “The Metal Children” did not fail to incorporate both humor and emotion into its storyline. With clever allusions to other literary works and cultural trends, “The Metal Children” was a breath of fresh air as it accommodated for those who were able to catch the quick references, and even for those who weren’t. Braunstein successfully reached his goal to allow audience members to feel included in the debate on banning literature in our country. Emphasizing how censorship in art is dangerous and can stifle the creative process, “The Metal Children” harnessed genuine sentiment from the audience as it addresses such relevant topics today.