Don’t lie – you’ve probably thumbed through the pages of a supermarket tabloid more than once in your life. The line is slow, the cashier has run off, and you suddenly find yourself curious – even captivated – by the possibility of such headlines as “Severed Leg Hops to Hospital” or “Bigfoot Kept Lumberjack as Love Slave.”
Of course, if you were at all aware of such things in the early 90’s, then you’ve probably come across the “Bat Boy” at least once. Now, the half-man, half-bat found in a West Virginia cave has leapt from the pages of the “Weekly World News” and come to the Washington Metropolitan area in the form of Bat Boy: The Musical.
And that’s one sentence I never thought I’d have to write.
Like the tabloid cover story, the play is set in Hope Falls, a rural West Virginia town. The people of Hope Falls have fallen on hard times as the mining jobs they depended on have fallen away. In its place, the town has turned to an ill-fated attempt at cattle ranching – an unlikely industry in the hills of West Virginia.
If that wasn’t enough, the town is turned upside down (insert guffaw) when three local teens discover a Bat Boy (Jimmy Mavrikes) living in a nearby cave. Bat Boy is captured and brought to the home of local veterinarian Dr. Parker (Alan Naylor) and his wife Meredith (Esther Convington). Dr. Parker is resigned to euthanasia, but Meredith decides to raise Bat Boy – whom she renames Edgar – as part of the family.
The townsfolk aren’t so quick to just let the Bat Boy exist in their world, of course. After all, Bat Boy hospitalized little Ruthie Taylor (Farrell Parker) with a vicious bite when he was captured, and Bat Boy proves a likely scapegoat for the sickly cattle dotting the countryside.
Now, Mrs. Taylor (Dani Stoller), along with sons Rick (Russell Silber) and Ron (Maggie Leigh Walker), are out for revenge. The local law-man, Sheriff Reynolds (Katie Nigsch-Fairfax) is agnostic towards the creature, but has an election to win and an electorate to appease – so Edgar is on his own.
For his part, Edgar rapidly learns the ins and outs or normalcy. To highlight his acculturation, Edgar dons a British accent and a bowtie and even serves tea with a bow – all of which is well and good until his insatiable hunger for blood gets the better of him.
Let the gothic fun begin!
The players at 1st Stage have given us a lot to love about Bat Boy. The direction is sound, the choreography is strong and the humor served up good and wry.
And when it comes to the musical component of Bat Boy: The Musical, these guys work it hard. The entire ensemble is wickedly talented, and you get the sense they’re having a heck of a lot of fun stabbing, punching, maiming, burning and otherwise disfiguring one another as they cheerily belt out some tremendous tunes.
Maria Rizzo deserves some distinction for her portrayal as Shelley Parker, daughter to Meredith and the deranged Dr. Parker. Her musical performance is spot on, and whether through practice or observation she knows how to pout, stomp and make an exit as well as the angstiest of teens. Likewise, Dani Stoller shows off some killer comedic timing, and Jimmy Mavrikes exhibits a great physicality as the Bat Boy.
The play itself is simultaneously light and twisted, sometimes good for a laugh and sometimes rather grisly. It’s funny, it’s suspenseful, it’s certainly different – but there’s something just a little off about the whole thing.
Sure, it’s satire, and a commentary on prejudice and tolerance in America. All of this is delivered with a heavy (if creepy) wink, and both playwright and actors deserve credit for never taking themselves too seriously. If they had, they’d be in a world of hurt with this one.
But the setting here is paper thin. The rural south is a now a well-trodden target of lampoon, and Bat Boy – ironically – doesn’t stray from the norm here. Yes, some southern people talk differently from the rest of the country. And when religious hypocrites expose themselves, it’s worth ridiculing. Hooray! Things we all recognize!
BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL
Closes June 22, 2014
1st Stage Theatre
1524 Spring Hill Road
2 hours with 1 intermission
Fridays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Now, a satirical bludgeoning could be forgiven if it weren’t for some of the jarring moments that mar the work. The play ping-pongs tonally between dark and fluffy far too often – say, for example, jumping from the recount of a horrible rape to some on-stage silliness and puppet-work.
Call me a prude, but it’s problematic.
In short, it’s all kind of stupid. But then again, it is a play based on a tabloid. And not one minute of Bat Boy’s problems are the fault of 1st Stage or their actors. They were wonderful, with kudos all around.
What’s left is a mixed bag. I’d wager no one went back to their cars whistling “Another Dead Cow” or any of the other ensemble numbers for that matter. But the play did win more than its share of applause, and the audience left laughing and chattering about the performance.
So maybe Bat Boy just wasn’t for me. But results speak for themselves, and if the roar of the audience this past weekend was any indication, they got their money’s worth.
Bat Boy: The Musical . Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming . Music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe . Directed by Steven Royal . Music Director: Walter Bobby McCoy. Choreography: Pauline Grossman . Featuring Jimmy Mavrikes as Bat Boy, Maria Rizzo as Shelley, Esther Covington as Meredith, and Alan Naylor as Dr. Parker. The ensemble is composed of Stephen Hock, Katie Nigsch-Fairfax, Farrell Parker, Russell Silber, Dani Stoller and Maggie Lee Walker . Produced by 1st Stage . Reviewed by Jon Boughtin.