Another Albee

We’re all alone out here, you know, but at least most of us have a sense of where we are. Then there’s little Malcolm. Poor, pretty Malcolm in his sharp pinstriped suit. Thing is, there are plenty of people out there with use for such a pretty, pure and unlearned boy.

So many people with so much use, in fact, that by the end of Cherry Red Productions’ “Malcolm,” the boy (Brandon Thane Wilson) is nothing more than a near-naked heap; dead of acute alcoholism and, well, too much sex, all before he’s even old enough to drive.

With themes of corruption and misuse and such a salacious basic question as “How does one love a child?” director Ian Allen could have gone in many directions. But coming from the company that dedicates itself to the filthy (smut, Jesus and, in this case, molesting little boys, as Allen says in the pre-play monologue), this is a surprisingly restrained production.

Malcolm’s adventures lead him through the hands of several curious characters, making this play a tumble through a Wonderland of lost innocence. Surprisingly, there is no nudity in “Malcolm,” although beauties wearing nothing more than well-washed tightie-whities are a constant presence. And there’s more to this decision than the fact that Malcolm is played by an actual 15-year-old boy. The marked lack of nudity and general filth is actually quite unsettling and effective. “Malcolm” is a play about the ways in which innocence is used and misused, and it is the lack of overt reference to the ways in which it is misused that stays with you.

Cherry Red’s production is only the third staging of Edward Albee’s failed 1966 adaptation of James Purdy’s 1959 novel by the same name. “Malcolm” had a very brief run in New York and since then was performed one time at a college, a production Albee himself directed. Needless to say, Allen faced quite a challenge in directing this play, which also features a gargantuan cast of 14 actors. Even so, the production is well-executed.

The set is also well thought out, as the audience surrounds the action, lending a voyeuristic feel to the action. Add to this the fact that little Malcolm wanders through the play in an ever-decreasing wardrobe (including magenta boxer shorts in his Melba/boy-toy period), and one is likely to leave the play feeling a little dirtier than when he entered. Dirtier and mildly confused, actually, although this is more likely a testament to the difficulty of the original material rather than the production itself.

Cherry Red seems to have two modes: there’s the balls-out, raunchy, dirty stuff and then there’s the more serious and involved fare (which often includes a little filth for fun). Considering the title and topic, this should have been the former. There was, I assumed, going to be a little healthy nudity, some sex jokes, perhaps some suggestive thrusting and then a calm Metro ride home. The incongruence of fact with expectation and the resulting discomfort may have been the point, and it is very well made.

“Malcolm” is running now through March 6 at the Source Theatre. Call (202) 462-1073 for more information.

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