Last year, I saw and loved Mark Pracht's "The Mark of Kane" at City Lit Theater in Lakeview. That play told the story of Bob Kane and Bill Finger's creation of the iconic Batman character and Kane's work to take all the credit. I enjoyed it enough that I did not hesitate when City Lit announced Pracht's play "The Innocence of Seduction" - the second in his promised "Four-Color Trilogy," which focuses on the history of comic books.
"Innocence" tells of the censorship of comic books in the 1950s, when US government officials were actively destroying careers and lives in the name of patriotism and decency. The play takes its title from Dr. Fredric Wertham's 1954 book "Seduction of the Innocence," which blamed juvenile delinquency on the comic book industry. According to Wertham, reading comic books caused children to become violent, rebellious, and amoral. Congress took note and turned public sentiment against comic book publishers. The issue resulted in establishing The Comics Code Authority (CCA), which approved only comics that met an arbitrary level of "decency." Because no distributors would accept comics without the code's seal, this meant the end of crime comics and horror comics. The move particularly affected William Gaines and EC Comics, which pioneered titles such as "Tales from the Crypt" and "Crime SuspenStories."
This play focuses on the rise and fall of EC and Gaines's struggle against the CCA and its demagogue leader, Judge Charles Murphy. Other real-life characters appear, such as gay, black artist Matt Baker (played by Brian Bradford) and female artist Janice Valleau (played by Megan Clarke); but it is Sean Harklerode as Gaines who steals the show. The neurotic and passionate publisher dominates every scene in which he appears. All these characters were real people affected by the events of their times. This production gave depth to those characters.
A creepy Wertham wandered in and out of scenes, casting judgment on the comic medium. Often, visuals from comic books appeared on an oversized television at the back of the set.
With 15 cast members and 22 characters, this is the largest production I have seen at City Lit. The cast nearly outnumbered the audience, which only numbered about 25 for this preview performance - small, even for this tiny theater on the second floor of a church. However, the sparse turnout did not dampen the performers' enthusiasm or the production's quality.
"The Innocence of Seduction" is filled with humor and tragedy. It deserves a larger audience.