Although best known for his monster movies, Ed Wood also made a bunch of crime dramas and sensationalistic films about slashers, gangsters and juvenile delinquents. Among these “Gritty” thrillers was The Violent Years, the tale of a girl gang of lady hoodlums! The concept was no-doubt much more novel at the time it was made, but by today’s standards the petty crime spree depicted in this film seems rather silly. This is one of several reasons why the stage adaptation by DM Theatrics is the weakest link in their festival of plays based on Ed Wood films.
Wood didn’t actually direct the movie but he did write the script which contains the sort of blunt exposition and unconvincing moralizing that Wood’s fans have come to expect. The story centers on Paula Parkins who leads a small band of teenaged girls that rob gas stations, steal jewelry and even rape a terribly unfortunate fellow in one scene (Poor bastard).
Yet they go too far when they knock over a few tables in a school room, and this results in a deadly shootout with some cops who conveniently teleport to the scene of the petty crime and open fire on a group of teenagers committing a misdemeanor.
This adaptation is played straight, unlike the rest of the plays in the festival. It isn’t a parody, and it doesn’t have the layer of self-aware camp that the other four plays do. With some Ed Wood scripts, the dialog spoofs itself just by being spoken with a straight face. In the case of The Violent Years, it just results in a boring and predictable story. Bereft of Wood’s usual supply of monsters, aliens and transvestites, this script doesn’t have anything to hold the audience’s attention.
This stage version transfers the story from the 1950’s into the modern time period, and has some multimedia aspects that try to tie in modern youth culture with Wood’s dire warning about the dangers of lawless teens. While Director/ Adaptor Frank Cwiklik is making an effort to create a statement about modern society and our trash television, Wood’s story doesn’t have enough substance to make a strong point.
As with the movie, the play is overtly exploitative with several scenes of sex and violence (Plus violent sex). There’s screaming, punching, shooting, and actress Lindsey Carter ends up in her underpants for the fourth or fifth time in this festival (Not that anyone’s complaining), but the show isn’t clearly condemning or even subverting the exploitation.
When there’s no undressing or fighting, the plot limps along with much moralizing about the evils of incompetent parenting and the society that coddles these high-school hellions. Woodian subplots emerge and either go nowhere or lead directly where the audience expects.
Obviously this production has much better acting and directing than the movie. Shiloh Klein plays the criminal mastermind Paula in a reasonably sympathetic manner, but the show is crippled by sticking too close to the movie’s story and tone.
The Violent Years is the least entertaining piece among the five shows in the Final Curtain: Last of Ed Wood series, but those interested have one final chance to catch all of them on Sunday July 1st.
There is one final showing of The Violent Years as of this writing. Final Curtain: The Last of Ed Wood plays through July 1st. More information can be found at www.dm-theatrics.com.