Don’t go to Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project’s The Bad Seed hoping to be shocked. Even if you don’t read the spoilers on the IndyFringe website you will be able to predict what is going to unfold because stories about evil children are now almost a cliche.
But that is also one reason this show is worth seeing. William March's 1954 novel — adapted for stage here by James Capps — was, pardon the expression, the seed for many future tales of young sociopaths. If you are a horror and suspense fan, it is interesting to think about this story’s significance in the genre’s history.
More importantly, eight-year-old Rhoda Penmark is still one creepy little girl. Her manipulation skills are rough but she’s honing them fast. As for her empathy skills, well, as they say in the play, “If someone was born blind, can you teach them to see?”
Actor Elsie McNulty, under Callie Burk’s direction, nails Rhoda’s terrifying combination of outer huggability and inner soullessness.
It is also fascinating to see this piece about nature vs. nurture right after Wisdom Tooth’s Distracted, which so skillfully explored Attention Deficit Disorder as a result of both genetics and environment and as both gift and curse. The Bad Seed, although also about a challenging child, is ultimately about something else entirely: a child that is all curse.