The usual advertising for BAT BOY can be pretty disturbing. It consists of recreations of sensationalistic pictures and articles about deviant behavior and malformed people taken from the papers usually found at grocery store checkout counters. The Underground production performed at the Milburn Stone Theater located at Cecil College gave its audience so much more sensation!
From first entry into the darkened theater and cavern-like set to the sound effects of dripping water and echoing ‘noises’, the audience becomes unsure and begins to anticipate and question. Is this play really about a boy raised by bats since everybody knows that ‘these stories’ have no basis in reality? Is this play vampiric in some way to go along with current trends in novel writing and movies?
This production, brought to life in the capable hands of S. Lee Lewis, brings an unusually dark situation out into the light and then shines more light to help reflect on how humanity reacts when confronted by the unusual or simply the unknown. From the opening minutes watching spelunkers make their way into the cavern and then hearing the high-pitched, animalistic sounds of the strange creature, we are lured into another place.
West Virginia is the backdrop for this “place” and this ensemble cast does a wonderful and compelling job in creating unique and intriguing characters from the town of Hope Falls (a Freudian name to be sure). The primary family: veterinarian, Dr Thomas Parker (Chris Saltalamachhio); his wife, Meredith (Jayne Lewis); and their daughter, Shelly (Ashley Wright) is portrayed with equal parts of love, venom and secrecy. When the ‘creature’ is discovered and brought out of its native environment, the most reasonable thing to do is to have the vet put down (aka kill) the creature since his bite of Ruthie Taylor (during his capture) has sent her to the hospital in serious condition. As the physically and vocally nimble Josh Singer brings the bat boy to life and the relationship grows between “it” and the family including his naming as Edgar, there is a secondary decision made to salvage Edgar’s humanity through teaching and emotional support. These are complex emotions strictly conveyed by the song lyrics as Bat Boy is a musical, after all. The music and singing sound complex in a Sondheim-like way and hearing the lyrics was crucial to understanding the plot. While having live music is always something that adds to stage productions, the combination of music volume and microphone malfunctions made it difficult to hear all of the songs and to understand all of the lyrics. The passion in each singing voice and the dynamic arrangements made me want to hear more so I was frustrated at those times when I heard less. This is probably just an adjustment and does not detract from what you see unfold overall.
The ensemble works to move the production pacing by setting new pieces while striking others with timing that can be admired by community theaters everywhere. I was wondering why Mr. Lewis chose to place the Parker family living room stage center making those setups longer than they needed to be. While everything else moved so smoothly and effectively, that little element caused a delay that seemed unnecessary.
With the support of every other production element, Mr. Singer takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride as he unerringly weaves his way through the language learning exercises making us laugh with him through his unhappiness with conventional food and continuing affection for blood making us cringe with him through his craving for the affection of those around him making us yearn with him. Ms. Lewis and Ms. Wright are always stalwart supporters even as the town sees only differences and the production takes a turn toward the Frankenstein-esque.
The second act shines a light on humanity, and the resulting picture is not a very pretty one. The total ensemble succeeds wonderfully to expand the growing and unreasoning fear and how that fear drives the need to get “back to normal. Ms. Lewis’s emotional transition from supporter to destroyer is beautifully drawn and executed and theatrically shone with clever staging and lighting effects. The lovely song, Inside Your Heart, made me hopeful that humanity would come through for these two isolated people.
BAT BOY is a wonderful experience and brings you out of the theatre with music on your lips and thoughts to be “a better person” in your soul.
BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL
Story and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe
Directed by S. Lee Lewis
October 22 – 31, 2010
Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD