OAKLAND -- Debussy's beautiful melody "Clair de lune," takes on ominous overtones when played by young Rhoda Penmark in Maxwell Anderson's drama "The Bad Seed."

Skyline High School's Performing Arts Department presents this story of good vs. evil (with evil in the guise of a pigtailed young girl) that was to start Wednesday and play through Saturday.

"Our last five plays at Skyline have all been fabulous and very successful musicals," said drama teacher and director Jan Hunter. "I really wanted to give the students and our audience a taste of a finely written drama with great characters."

Based on the 1954 novel by William March, "The Bad Seed" was adapted for Broadway by Maxwell Anderson. It ran for 334 performances, receiving a Tony Award for Best Actress and, in 1956, it became an Oscar-nominated film. The play's ending, however, conflicted with the Motion Picture Production Code at the time, forcing Maxwell to change it.

"The Bad Seed" tells of a seemingly sweet young girl. When she loses a penmanship award to another student, however, a darker side emerges. Her violence toward the student sets off a series of events that threaten to expose her true nature. When her mother discovers the evil lurking just below her daughter's calm exterior, she takes steps to stop her.

"This play has been a challenge," said Gwen Hornig, who plays Christina, the mother. "There are so many levels of emotion to convey as she finds out more and more about her daughter. I also have to find her maturity and how she can love her child unconditionally."

Julia Livesay plays Rhoda.

"It's fun to unleash emotions that you would normally hold back," Livesay explained. She found making Rhoda's almost bipolar changes from sweetness to violent anger the most difficult part of her role.

"It happens so quickly, and I want to make it real," Livesay said. "Gwen and I also have some really emotional scenes together. It's very intense and exhausting."

Recent cuts to arts programs have also been a bit exhausting for Hunter as she stages the show.

"We lost our stage craft class, after-school class and much more," Hunter said. "These are really challenging economic times, but we have been fortunate to have tremendous volunteer support."

According to Hunter, parent volunteers and former alumni have made all the difference.

"We have a beautiful set and costumes thanks to volunteers," Hunter said. "Our technical director is a former graduate who volunteers his time to make this show the best it can be."

Hunter's son, a former Skyline graduate, even flew back from New York to help direct the show when Hunter cared for her mother in Los Angeles.

"Everyone involved in this production has become one big family," Hunter said. "When things happen, we just adapt."

Christina and Rhoda could learn something from Hunter and her family of volunteers.

IF YOU GO

What: "The Bad Seed" by Skyline High School's Performing Arts Department
When: 7:30 p.m. through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday matinee
Where: Rawley T. Farnsworth Theatre, Skyline High School, 12250 Skyline Blvd.
Tickets: presale tickets for $8 at the school bank; $10 at the door