(The cast and creative team of "Child's Play" following Monday night's reading)
A who’s who of Palm Beach County theatergoers, actors, directors and critics gathered at Lynn University’s elegant Wold Performing Arts Center this past Monday to absorb “Child’s Play,” the final entry in Jan McArt’s 2013-2014 New Play Reading Series.
Tony Finstrom, a playwright who has contributed to the series and who handles its publicity, has been trying to convince me to attend it for years, and now that I’ve finally experienced one of the play readings, my absence at the others feels downright neglectful. It was a genuine treat to see a work like “Child’s Play”—written by my favorite local playwright, Christopher Demos-Brown—in its most embryonic form, tested for the first time in front of a live audience, and directed and performed by utmost professionals who, one assumes, were paid little to nothing for their consummate efforts. I found that the more engrossed I became in the story, the more the actors’ scripts disappeared.
“Child’s Play” has nothing to do with demonic little dolls; rather, it’s a sensitive examination of the murky waters of child custody that, if and when it is staged as a full production, will open plenty of debate as attendees leave the auditorium. Demos-Brown, fresh off his success at winning a Carbonell Award for last year’s postwar psychodrama “Fear Up Harsh,” shows sympathy for everyone involved in the courtroom imbroglio: the birth mother, a Russian stripper nicknamed Masha (played at the reading by Jessica Brooke Sanford), her belittled boyfriend, a petty pot dealer (Nick Duckart); the righteous DCF agent who finds Masha an unfit mother (Karen Stephens); and the foster parents who adopt Masha’s two-year-old child (Julie Rowe and Michael McKeever), a move that eventually culminates at gunpoint.
Like most of Demos-Brown’s plays, “Child’s Play” is peppered with vivid, pointed imagery—Stephens describes a recent case of “maggots in a child’s anus”—and relevant, esoteric reference points, from oxford commas to artisanal coffee to Norm MacDonald. Also like much of Demos-Brown’s work, it’s really funny until it isn’t, and we’re flummoxed by its gradually elevating pathos. It’s already a very good play, and with some retooling here and there, it will likely be a great one.
Jan McArt’s New Play Reading series commences its next season Nov. 3 with the premiere of Tony Finstrom’s “East Hampton, Last Summer” at Lynn University’s Wold Center, 3601 N. Military Trail, Boca Raton. Tickets are always $10 per play reading. For information, visit events.lynn.edu.