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Evil Genius



Those bad seeds are at it again. The Running With Scissors troupe was first spotted in New Orleans more than three years ago at the Audubon Club, where they committed several grisly murders and the audience got sprayed with blood. Well, murder is once more in the air. And while the special effects have been toned down, the level of psychological horror has been -- like Macbeth's courage -- screwed to the sticking point.

The Bad Seed was a famous movie of the 1950s. The movie was based on a play by Maxwell Anderson, which was, in turn, based on a novel by William March.

Running With Scissors is a marvelously talented gang of camp vamps. More than that, really. It is are an inventive theater troupe, that qualifies as that rare local beast: a true repertory company. Or to put another way, it's a close-knit group of friends, who loves to put on shows. You can be pretty sure your favorites from the last outing will be onstage this time again. And you can also be pretty sure that the flavor of the comedy will be familiar, in the best sense of the word. That is to say, if you are a fan, you won't be disappointed.

The bad seed in Bad Seed (in case there's anyone out there who doesn't know) is a sweet little homicidal maniac, 8 years of age -- the Lolita of carnage. In this production, Flynn De Marco as young Rhoda Penmark flounces around in a Kewpie doll dress and blond pigtails. Only occasionally does Rhoda let slip the will of steel concealed beneath her falsetto cuddliness.

Brian Peterson is Christine, Rhoda's mom, who is forced to the troubling realization that her dainty lambkin has the heart of Old Scratch. A deadly kiddie conflict arises over a penmanship medal that Rhoda feels she should have won. It was awarded to a schoolmate, however, who sadly enough drowns at a picnic. Rhoda was the last person to see the penmanship medal winner. They were together on the dock, from which the boy fell to his death.

The wonderful thing about Running With Scissors is that the performers -- like the late, great playwright Charles Ludlum with whom they share an unpredictable sense of humor -- do not depend on camp cliches. They have no aversion to camping, but the audience never knows where the laugh will really come from. In this play, for instance, an instant tray of peanut butter sandwiches is as hysterical as it is inexplicable.

Among the "usual suspects" in the cast are Dorian Rush and Jim Jeske, along with frequent guest Roy Haylock. Richard Read and De Marco co-directed, with a fine sense of insanity, as they are wont to do.

Meanwhile, another usual comedy has been launched in a more unusual theater space. The library of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Canal Street (formerly Maison Blanche) is a curious sort of reading room. It's posh, has an elaborate bar and even a few books. But it does make a cozy, intimate auditorium for Steve Martin's "comedy-fantasy" Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Director Mason Wood told me after the show that he has an obsession of sorts with Lapin Agile. He attended its world premiere in Chicago and has produced the play in Baton Rouge. He not only directed the current production, but also does a dandy job in the part of Albert Einstein. Picasso and Einstein in one room! What brain power! What talent! But, that's not all. Schmendiman also puts in an appearance. Schmendiman, the great inventor! Or, as it says in the program, "a wannabe."

Lapin Agile is not an easy play to summarize. It's a whimsical, meandering tribute to genius, to the 20th century and to lust, or romance, or some mixture of the two. The hero of the play seems to be "the future." An edgy, and not entirely convincing, triumphalism keeps breaking out -- and yet this triumphalism is continually undercut by the women who feel used on the one hand, and by the fierce narcissism of Picasso on the other. The play is a paean to bohemian creativity -- a sour paean, in some ways, but also, an often funny one.

This cast does a good job and creates a broad spectrum of types. Gary Rucker is the vigorous, self-absorbed Picasso. Bob Edes is a droll French bachelor with a love of drink. Andy English gives us a doomed Yankee Doodle of a Schmendiman. Daniel LaForce is an art dealer, who can make or break a career. Lucas Harms and Andre Frankle are a likable duo of barkeeps, and Leah Loftin is the sometime muse/consort of the Spanish painter. In brief, this is a pleasant puzzlement one is grateful for the chance to see.

Rhoda Penmark (Flynn De Marco) tries to conceal her devilish ways from her mother, Christine (Brian Peterson), in Running With Scissors' production of Bad Seed at Le Chat Noir.
  • Rhoda Penmark (Flynn De Marco) tries to conceal her devilish ways from her mother, Christine (Brian Peterson), in Running With Scissors' production of Bad Seed at Le Chat Noir.

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