Feature

The Metal Children

A young-adult novelist named Tobin Falmouth, played by Billy Crudup, travels to a small town to defend his latest book, which has been banned by the local school board.

Vineyard Theatre
New York
(212) 353-0303

***

Playwright Adam Rapp’s The Metal Children is a “cold-eyed appraisal of the way we interpret (and misinterpret) literature,” said Mark Peikert in the New York Press. Rapp’s protagonist, a young-adult novelist named Tobin Falmouth, travels to a small town to defend his latest book, which has been banned by the local school board. He quickly realizes that his tale about mysteriously impregnated teenage girls has touched off an ideological civil war. He’s greeted by “graffiti in his hotel room, a terrified English teacher, and a roving band of vigilantes.” Soon Scripture-quoting parents are duking it out with “hormonal teenagers who turn books into Holy Grails.” Amid all the controversy, Falmouth is forced to look inward to try to figure out what exactly he meant to say.

“The most interesting thing about The Metal Children is its back story,” said Marilyn Stasio in Variety. Rapp, who himself writes young-adult novels, based the play on his own experiences when the school board of a small town in Pennsylvania banned his gritty book about a juvenile detention center. So you’d think that he would actually have a thing or two to say on the subject of “a writer’s moral responsibility for his work.” But, no, the main character turns out to be spineless on that subject, leaving the audience frustrated by Rapp’s “failure to take a position.” Luckily for the playwright, he’s bailed out by actor Billy Crudup, whose “uncommonly expressive face and great inner resources” keep us interested in Falmouth’s soul-searching.

Rapp deserves credit for not turning the play into another “predictable story of the culture wars,” said Charles Isherwood in The New York Times. Before seeing it, one might reasonably assume The Metal Children would be another tired, partisan play in which “the forces of good—meaning liberal-minded, culturally sophisticated New Yorkers—do battle with the righteous and close-minded armies of the Christian Right.” But Rapp resists that temptation, instead offering up a “more murky, ambiguous tale of the dangerous ideological uses to which literature can be put, by its champions and detractors alike.”

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