By: Walter Ruff
LikeThe Goat or Who is Sylvia by Edward Albee, Beautiful Child by Nicky Silver is a play that scares critics and audiences alike with hard to handle subject material that evokes our most deeply held feelings of disgust. Didactic Theatre’s mission includes promoting the reality of disparity based on a variety of circumstances. They encourage audiences to look outside their circle and experience different standpoints. Beautiful Child is perfect choice for such a mission and Didactic handles the subject matter (pedophilia) with thoughtful direction and performance. This play is not simply about pedophilia, it asks larger questions such as what we as a society do with sexual predators. Do we as parents love our children any less when they turn out far different than we expected, even to include being abusers of children? This play does not offer answers for such incredibly hard questions but as it should lets the audience struggle to come to their own conclusions.
Beautiful Child tells the story of a teacher-artist in his mid 30s that arrives home one day for a family lunch date. Isaac (Cecil Baldwin) it seems has some news to tell his parents — he needs to move home after he has had an affair with his student. The poor parents, Harry and Nan, (Steve Beall and Glee Murray) are already engulfed in marital strife. Harry’s paramour Delia (Karen Novak) is driving him a bit crazy with her possessiveness. After Isaac drops his bombshell that the object of his affection is a mere eight years old Harry and Nan must struggle with an answer to Isaac’s request to move back home. Delia meanwhile decides to camp out on their porch adding even more crazy confusion to the mix. Dr. Hilton (Maya Lynne Robinson) Isaac’s less than helpful former therapist who may be Silver’s stand-in for happily blind society reminds Harry and Nan of how they failed as parents. As the play progresses the horror of Isaac’s revelation causes his parents to question their parenting decisions and then themselves. A surprise ending has Harry and Nan creating a horrific solution to a complicated quandary.
Having addressed the subject matter of the play, this production has a mixture of performances that will entertain and confuse. Cecil Baldwin seen recently in both The Boys Next Door and Colorado Catechism with Journeymen Theatre Ensemble is excellent in his roll as Isaac. His performance is understated and fragile, showing depth and emotional range that establishes him as a clear local talent. Steve Beall and Glee Murray are uneven — at times both show flashes of great acting only to totally underplay lines a few minutes later. Maya Lynne Robinson as both Dr. Hilton and the mother of Isaac’s victim is funny and intense — her wide eyed outbursts grab attention and provide comic moments to breakup the plentiful tense scenes. Ms. Novak is a bit over the top in her portrayal of Delia but her performance is quite entertaining in an unpredictable, unglued way and like Ms. Robinson adds lighthearted comic moments to the dark stretches of heavy dramatic material.
Didactic is an upcoming, evolving theatre company so it is understandable that the budget for set design was lacking, hence the staging seemed inadequate and unfitting. The lighting for Beautiful Child was smooth and without fault and sound design was as good as can be expected at the tiny Warehouse Black Box.
Didactic has done admirable job with highly controversial material and once again shows they are a fearless, bold addition to the DC theatre community. Kristen Cornwall and company succeed in staying within their mission to keep us thinking outside the box even though it may be a whole lot more comfortable for us inside it.Beautiful Child
Directed by Kristen Cornwall
December 2 – December 18 @ Warehouse Theatre Black Box