The Bad Seed

E3 Productions at the Electric Company, 2512 SE Gladstone 232-5955, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, through Feb. 7, $12-15

If you are a 10-year-old, or used to be a 10-year-old, then you know that most 10-year-olds are vicious, lying brutes hell bent on destruction. When kids reach their psychotic peak we ship them to internment camps (euphemistically called "middle schools," and in some places "junior highs") for reprogramming and sterilization. But it's the good kids, the honor-roll, citizenship award winners that are the most dangerous.

Most people know The Bad Seed from the 1956 cult film starring the pig-tailed Patty McCormack as a homicidal schoolgirl. On film, the adaptation of William March's novel comes across kitschy, like a long episode of The Twilight Zone. J. Paccassi's new stage adaptation deprives the audience the distant luxury of a movie screen, forcing the viewer to share the same room with a 10-year-old psychopath. Rhoda Penmark (Michelle McMackin) is the star child of her class and the apple of her mother's eye. Rhoda is every bit the perfect child, living a calm, austere life with her mother Christine (Ina Strauss) in the middle of 1950s America. But the formica-smooth American dream life is upset when one of Rhoda's classmates drowns on a school field trip under strange circumstances.

Paccassi's direction dampens the shock value of the murderer child genre into a beautifully woozy chamber drama, with long bits of silence where horror takes the stage. Ina Strauss is incredible as the dreamboat housewife faced with an unspeakable terror in her own home. Strauss glows with style while her life is in balance, but her grace withers into Jackie Kennedy black and finally into the tragic chic of Shakespeare or Ibsen.

It takes guts to stage a play over two hours in length with a child in the villainous central role. Michelle McMackin is as good as one could expect. In fact, the young actor's transparency works right into the calculating lies of the character Rhoda. Virginia Belt and Rachelle Schmidt take turns as women brokenhearted by their small town, while Jason Maniccia lightens the mood as the manchild gardener who's all too-hip to little Rhoda's diabolical secret life.

Like the Johnny Mathis songs that play on the hi-fi throughout the play, The Bad Seed is beautiful and spooky, and would rather kill you than break your heart. TOUSSAINT PERRAULT