The Metal Children -- Theater Review

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It's a testament to his talent that the supremely dashing, good-looking Billy Crudup can play a loser as convincingly as he does in Adam Rapp's new play "The Metal Children." As a novelist struggling with personal and professional crises, the actor melts into the background in such a way that he almost seems invisible.

Based on an incident in Rapp's career, the play depicts the turmoil engendered when a school board in the wittily named town of Midlothia bans writer Tobin Falmouth's latest work, "The Metal Children," a young-adult novel dealing with such issues as teen pregnancy and abortion.

Still reeling from his wife having left him for another man, Tobin (Crudup), at the encouragement of his acerbic editor (an amusing David Greenspan), travels to the town to defend his work in person, only to encounter a series of eccentric characters and increasingly bizarre events.

While the subject would seem a promising springboard for amusing and pointed social commentary, the playwright squanders its potential through the sheer strangeness of the proceedings, which include a cult of pig-masked teenage girls led by a militant 16-year-old (Phoebe Strole) who are determined to get pregnant as an expression of self-empowerment.

Veering uneasily between satirical humor about the culture wars and a serious depiction of the central character's lapse into near-catatonic depression, the play doesn't fully succeed on either count. Sluggishly paced and overlong, it also includes numerous episodes -- like a school board public hearing that dissolves into chaos -- that lack the desired impact.

Still, there are enough juicy moments and ideas on display to make the play of interest, and the supporting performers -- including Susan Blommaert as a prim hotel manager, Connor Barrett as a jumpy English teacher and Betsy Aidem in two wildly disparate roles -- provide vividly entertaining turns. As does Crudup, who somehow manages to make severe anomie seem wildly attractive.

Venue: Vineyard Theatre, New York (through June 13)
Playwright-director: Adam Rapp
Cast: Billy Crudup, David Greenspan, Halley Wegryn Gross, Betsy Aidem, Susan Blommaert, Connor Barrett, Phoebe Strole, Jessy Hodges, Guy Boyd
Scenic designer: David Korins
Costume designer: Jessica Pabst
Lighting designer: Ben Stanton
Original music/sound designer: David Van Tieghem
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