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Shows Worth Seeing:



The Metal Children
By Adam Rapp
Vineyard Theatre
108 15th St.
Box office: (212) 353-0303

Adam Rapp’s new play, The Metal Children, is a fascinating contribution to a debate about art and moral responsibility that has been raging, unresolved, for more than 2500 years. It tells the tale of a New York writer named Tobin Falmouth (played with appropriate slacker self-pity by Billy Crudup) whose provocative young-adult novel about disappearing pregnant girls has been banned by a Midwestern school board. At the prodding of his unctuous agent (played by David Greenspan), Tobin travels to the town to defend himself and finds not only the expected pious kooks and bloodthirsty thugs out to harass and lynch him but also a real problem. The book has actually incited a group of teenage girls to declare their independence by becoming pregnant and running away from home—deeply questionable behavior that puts Tobin on the spot much more than he bargained for. This story twist, which involves the author personally in the dubious actions his book provokes, transforms The Metal Children from a sensationalist amusement into a smart and probing parable.

Like Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, Rapp’s play harks back to the dispute between Plato and Aristotle over whether drama (in this case a novel) necessarily causes copycat bad behavior. To his enormous credit, Rapp sees this debate from both sides. The traditional critique of Plato’s argument is that he writes as though audiences were children prone simply to imitate what they read and see. Adults supposedly know better, and understand that they should compare what they read and see with their stock of worldly knowledge and thus learn from art. Rapp cleverly immerses Tobin in a nightmare scenario where children are his audience, and the question of protecting them can’t just be swept under the rug. This is what McDonagh did in The Pillowman, using the police in a totalitarian state to confront a writer with the imitative violence he caused among children, but that play became preoccupied with sensationalism and essentially dropped the moral debate. Rapp too indulges in gore—enough to lead him into plot contrivance at times, actually—but he thinks through the moral debate much more completely than McDonagh did and thus gives his play punch and coherence. The Metal Children seems to say that if we urbane sophisticates really want to defend Art persuasively in a culture mistrustful of it, we might start by admitting that it can be dangerous, and that handling it safely requires grownup behavior from all parties. That is not a revolutionary statement, but it is a brave one.


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