My Bad

The play Bad Seed opened recently at the Herberger. (See capsule). Fans of Bad Seed know there's no "The" in the title of the play but that there is one in the title of the movie. They know that Monica's lovebirds and that pesky lightning storm occur only in John Lee Mahin's screenplay, and not in William March's novel or Maxwell Anderson's stage drama. But what about the rest of us — how can we ever sort out the many variations on this very peculiar story about a murderous girl? For those who care about such things, here's a primer to all things bad and seedy.

The rather baffling Mr. Emory Wages: In March's novel and the original play, Mr. Wages is a bland, lifeless character who's there mostly so that Monica Breedlove will have someone to speak her dialogue to. He's only slightly more fun as portrayed in the film by perennial "Maytag Repairman" Jesse White. In the iTheatre Collaborative version of the play, director Robert X. Planet edited out much of Emory's hemming and hawing, replacing it with bits of dialogue from the movie and making the character into something of a goofy smart aleck. Excising Mr. Wages altogether might have worked, as well.

Monica Breedlove’s "affection" for her brother: In both the novel and the original play script, Mrs. Breedlove admits to being in love with her brother, which is perfectly all right, she explains, because Emory is a "larvated homosexual" (horrors!). In the film, Emory isn't gay, just boring (see above). In Planet's version, there's a strong suggestion that Emory and Reginald Tasker are more than "fishing buddies," as described in other versions of the story.

LeRoy’s burning desire for Mrs. Penmark: "In the novel, LeRoy is very pervy," Planet says. But both the film and the Anderson play script downplay LeRoy's desire to share his excelsior bed with Rhoda's mom. "I told Greg Lutz, who plays LeRoy in our version, to write dialogue that would tell us things that Anderson couldn't say," Planet confesses. "Greg made LeRoy much darker, and much scarier."

Little Missy’s comeuppance: Both Anderson and March love their Rhoda, but mid-'50s motion picture studios wanted more than good penmanship from make-believe girl killers. In the film version, Rhoda is struck by lightning in a terrible tacked-on ending that's followed by an onscreen curtain call(!) in which she gets a long-overdue licking from her screen mommy. Planet won't tell which parts of which Bad Seed denouement he's gone with. "Let's just say that different people are dead in our version," he demurs. "You'll have to come see it to find out who."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela