We gave it a C+
The Metal Children, the interesting but flawed new Off Broadway drama written and directed by Adam Rapp, takes its name from a controversial but entirely fictional young adult novel by our hero, a 30-something, recently divorced bundle of contradictions named Tobin Falmouth (Billy Crudup, in an appealing performance). Falmouth’s 10-year-old fable about small-town teenagers getting pregnant and disappearing has taken on a life of its own in a Midwestern town called Midlothia: The local school board has banned the book from the high school curriculum, confiscated copies, and locked them away in a church vault.
You know where this is going, right? Not exactly. Far from being a strident defender of First Amendment freedoms against the unwashed, born-again masses, Falmouth is probably the most mumble-prone, least articulate person on stage — and one who barely remembers the contents of his own book. And the Midlothians consistently defy our expectations, too, from the closeted gay teacher (Connor Barrett) to a somewhat nuanced church activist (Betsy Aidem).
The problem is that The Metal Children feels like a promising early draft of a work in progress. Like many of Rapp’s plays, the dialogue is far too prosey to be completely convincing in a production that fundamentally strives for naturalism. Aside from Falmouth, just about everyone else on stage speaks in metaphor-heavy, paragraph-like chunks that are frequently laden with exposition or implausibly poetic. (Would a high school student — even a passionate book-reader like Vera (Phoebe Strole), the No. 1 fan of Falmouth’s book — ever utter a phrase like this: ”In every novel there lurks a sweet invisible monster”?) Rapp achieves theatrical moments that are both surprising and genuine, particularly an event-filled school board meeting that opens Act 2. But then there are others that never quite ring true — like a strange, short scene of violence at the end of the first act that seems to have no consequence or payoff in the second. In the end, it feels as awkward and underdeveloped as some of its adolescent characters. C+
(Tickets: Tickets.com or 212-353-0303)