Playwright Sharr White and director Cameron Watson have molded the riveting study of a family under the worst kind of stress imaginable – for this is stress which doesn’t go away with time and only gets more and more intolerable as the years roll by. With a tension which becomes almost unbearable as it unfolds, STUPID KID weaves the tale of a youngster of 14 who is wrested from his home, tried as an adult, and convicted of his girlfriend’s rape and murder, a crime which he swears he didn’t commit. And yet court records document his confession. Fourteen years go by, and the Innocence Project becomes involved in his case – only to find that his DNA, which was only a forensic scientist’s dream when he was tried and convicted, suggests that he did not kill the victim.
When Chick (Ben Theobald) is released from prison at 28, he returns home to poverty-ridden East Colorado to find that his family is flat broke and less than welcoming. For Chick’s conviction began their downward spiral as guilt and shame colored every moment of their lives after that. His mother Gigi (Taylor Gilbert) can barely look at him; and his father Eddie (Joe Hart) has become a passive, disabled, and broken man. Meanwhile, Unclemike (Rob Nagle), who was the police chief when Chick was arrested, has moved into Chick’s old room and holds the family captive emotionally with his occasional “gifts” of food and pain pills.
Tension escalates bit by bit when Unclemike – who has his own personal slave in Hazel (Allison Blaize), a drug-addcted felon who has been paroled to his custody – suggests that Chick sue for his wrongful conviction and get the million dollars coming to him after his 14-year incarceration. But, of course, Unclemike would get half the sum for his generous aid and assistance.
The entire cast does a superb job of portraying the complex turns in this story and breathing life into these blunt, simplistic people. Chick and his parents fairly leap from the stage into real life as they deal with almost insurmountable pressures. The audience comes close to shouting boos at Unclemike, the nearly perfect villain. Kudos to director Cameron Watson as he transcends the down-home prose on the page to create some very strong characters in their gradual evolution.
Special congratulations to scenic designer Jeff McLaughlin, whose set transition from Act I to Act II was so striking that the audience actually clapped. Kate Bergh’s costumes, Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting, and Christopher Moscatiello’s sound rounded out a strong production team. And let’s not forget Michael O’Hara’s props and Tracy Winters’ efforts as dialect coach to bring the narrative into everyone’s living space. Audience alert: some of the language and situations are definitely adults only, so leave the kids at home and prepare for some a pretty raw theater experience.
STUPID KID runs through November 12, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Road on Magnolia is located at 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $34 (students/seniors $17.50). For information and reservations, call 818-761-8838 or go online.