REVIEW / BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL / WHISTLING IN THE DARK THEATRE CO.

BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL

 Whistling in the Dark Theatre Company

The Green Room

March 20, 2011 at 2PM

 

To better understand the format of this Review, please see my page entitled Kate-the-Critic’s Philosophy.

 

NBF: 1. Some of the crowd scenes were a little unfocused and that’s when I would slip away a little… but HIGHLY entertaining otherwise. Too busy audibly laughing to put my hands in my mouth.

*:  There isn’t really much to contextualize here.  David is doing a reading for this company next month, but I don’t feel the need to hold anything back!

 

 

On June 23rd 1992, the now-defunct supermarket tabloid Weekly World News published its first story about a half-boy, half-bat who was repeatedly captured by scientists only to make a daring escape. The Bat Boy became an icon for the fabricated publication, somehow resurfacing constantly around the country until the paper folded in 2007. And now his story is a hysterically entertaining musical… which you can see right here in Columbus at Whistling in the Dark Theatre Company!

 

The place is Hope Falls, a fictional mining-turned-cattle town in rural West Virginia. The Taylor children, Rick, Ruthie, and Ron, spelunk into a nearby cave only to be attacked by a monstrous being – a cross between a boy and a bat. A Bat Boy!  The abominable critter is taken in by the Parker family, where he is taught proper speech and etiquette (however inappropriate to the region thanks to Mrs. Parker’s BBC Language tapes). Despite his efforts at conformity, the Christian town rejects the outcast and makes him a scapegoat for all the town’s problems. Only the forbidden love between the Parker’s daughter Shelly and the Bat Boy has the power to change the minds of the townspeople and reveal the truth about his past. Add some pop-singing, line-dancing, and shadow puppets and you’ve got yourself one hell of a fun evening.

 

My personal experience with Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming, and Laurence O’Keefe’s BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL is, like so many other things, shadowed by the events of 9/11. BAT BOY first opened Off-Broadway in March 2001 to spectacular reviews and was still hot when I arrived in Manhattan that August for my freshman year of college. I never made it to the show out of fear of going downtown (give me a break, I was 17 and didn’t have a cell phone), but the show pressed on for months after the fact while so many others closed their doors. I assumed it lasted because New Yorkers needed a gut-busting satire to take their minds off the chaos, but after finally seeing it staged last weekend I realize that wasn’t the only reason for its success.  It’s an all too familiar tale of the consequences that come with failing to understand each others differences.  The play is about Christian charity, or more accurately, “Christian charity,” and what is really lurking behind Hope Falls’ moral façade.  The “young lovers whose differing backgrounds keep them from being together” trope is a familiar one, but BAT BOY really goes for the throat of the people it’s attacking (seriously… there’s a lot of blood in this one! Don’t worry… it’s fun blood).  A play that you expect to deliver a superficial message ends more like a moving Shakespearean tragedy, with a final result that is a surprisingly accessible story within a well-structured plot.  The citizens of Hope Falls reiterate that the Bat Boy teaches us love, acceptance, and forgiveness, and this mission is accomplished for this audience and those New York audiences after 9/11.  And moreover, BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL is still highly commercial and very easy to sell (Right? Don’t you already want to buy a ticket?? A comedic musical based on a tabloid?? Come ON!). 

 

Whistling in the Dark’s production, directed by Joe Bishara, is laugh-inducing yet thought provoking as the writers intended.  A relatively small cast doubles as the central characters and the townspeople, employing frequent cross-gender casting. The effect is that everyone is visibly a little of one thing and a bit of another, just like the Bat Boy who they are so quick to demonize. This casting suggestion appears in the script however it is clear that Bishara really exaggerates this aspect of his production, taking it one step further by adding actors. The result? The hairy legged women and clean shaven men really stand out. Liam Cronin (who is also the Co-Producer and Lighting Designer) steals the show as the Bat Boy: he expertly grunts and drinks blood, and once transformed, sings well despite the fangs in his mouth.  The moments between Mrs. Parker (Heather Carvel) and the Bat Boy are the most delightful, as she lovingly teaches him human speech and behavior. Carvel’s is but one of many spectacular voices in this group, resulting in strong choral numbers throughout.  Christopher Storer’s maniacal deviance as Dr. Parker is also worth noting: the character is a true villain who Storer characterizes to chilling effect with sharp comedic timing and a powerful voice. The choreography is a bit simplistic at times, but Choreographer Liz Wheeler also has her hands full providing an effective portrayal of the Bat Boy’s love interest, Shelly Parker.  For all this I was told they only had 12 rehearsals – a feat of talent and dedication that shows.

 

The performances take place in The Green Room, a space in the OSU south campus gateway that is subsidized by the university’s Arts Initiative.  It lives up to this title by being a completely “green” space, dedicated to expelling as little waste as possible by using mainly recycled materials to produce shows. While many literary departments across the country are attempting to become green by using less paper, theater production is wasteful in nature and most companies do not follow this trend. Whistling in the Dark chose an appropriate piece in BAT BOY for this green style: the rawness of the space suits the tone of the play while also allowing its themes to protrude ahead of its fun surface. The accompanying music is prerecorded rather than performed live (this may be due to the cost of live performers more than the green mission).  There is even a counter and wall of cabinets utilized in the staging that remain from the room’s former life as a coffee shop. Any ineffectiveness in lighting or costuming is also easily forgiven because of this “Poor Theater” approach (see David’s next David’s Corner entry for more on this point). 

 

This environmental effort is admirable and I applaud Whistling in the Dark for it. However, the one thing that concerns me is the lack of a program.  In order to save paper, the cast and creative team were listed on a chalkboard in the space. How do I then remember the names and histories of the talented actors I’ve just seen if I don’t have a cast list with bios at hand? By providing a program, actors are not only noticed but remembered, possibly resulting in future opportunities. In a theater community where pay is often much less than is deserved, this is one form of compensation that can be provided. I hope next time there will at least be an online program linked to Whistling in the Dark’s website so when I want to remember the name of that talented actor, there’s a way to find it. Also, by not having a program, the audience is given no information about the Bat Boy tabloid phenomenon and the musical’s origins. It could just be the dramaturg in me talking, but I feel this would have further enhanced my experience of the play.

 

The only downfall of this accessible campus location is that it is surrounded by bars and restaurants… LOUD bars and restaurants. Sunday afternoon may be the perfect time to catch this play, because the pounding music may distract from evening performances. Parking is only $1 per hour in the south campus gateway garage, and the more tickets you buy to this show, the cheaper it is. So grab some friends and get down to campus!

 

BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL

Whistling in the Dark Theatre Co.

www.whistlingtheatre.com

614.805.9110

March 24-April 3

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30pm

Sunday afternoons at 2pm

$20 for 1, $35 for 2, $50 for 3, and $60 for 4 tickets

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Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 5:34 PM  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thanks Kate!
    I have to say I had the same thoughts about the program and I added an electronic copy to the website on Tuesday:)

    here is a link
    http://www.whistlingtheatre.com/bat-boy-program.html


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