Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Theatre--Review (AUI at Cite Des Arts)

This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Acting Unlimited’s production of Bat Boy:  The Musical.  Rumors around town and on various social media outlets all indicated that it was a great show and should not be missed.  But I’m a skeptic.  At best.  But knowing several people in the cast and knowing several others that wanted to see it as well, I decided to venture out and take Bat Boy in for myself.

Many people have heard of the Bat Boy in some form or another for several years.  What originally started out in 1992 as a headline story in the Weekly World News, inspired the musical.  But don’t go in expecting a musical version of the stories in the now defunct tabloid.  Playwrights Keythe Farley and Brian Fleming along with composer and lyricist Laurence O’Keefe manage to create an entirely new story for the character.

I had never read the script or seen the production.  So I had very little idea of what to expect.  Which is the way I recommend seeing it.  With as little knowledge as possible and a willingness to go on a journey.  The show opens as three teenaged siblings (Nick Dooley, Kelly Griffin and Krista Corbello) spelunk into a cave and come across a misshapen boy-like creature with a propensity to bite and spew unintelligible noises.  One of the teenagers is bitten but the other two manage to capture Bat Boy and pass him over to the Sheriff (Scott Meddows).  And now the fun begins.  The opening number includes the entire cast as various townspeople and they all have a strange fascination with the Bat Boy.  Some want to see him dead.  Others just want to see him.  But the small town sheriff decides the best course of action is to send him to the home of the local veterinarian.  I would be giving away entirely too much if I were to expand beyond that.  So I won’t.  But believe me, you won’t be disappointed by the direction the story takes.

The actual production has so many strengths.  The first of which is the director, Walter Brown.  He has worked with several production companies locally and has done every task a community theatre has to offer.  From directing to acting to lights to set design.  And he is quite adept at all of those tasks.  One of his strengths as a director is an adherence to the basics of theatre.  As one of the few people who actually embody and practice the very essence of “community” theatre, he opens his casts to a wide range of talents and abilities.  And he has the rather unique gift of taking the inexperienced and mingling them with the extremely experienced and somehow it all works out.  What could easily turn out to be a woefully uneven production miraculously manages to play to the strengths of his entire cast and no one seems out of place.

The principal roles of the show are cast near perfectly and as an audience member I could not have been more pleased.  Bat Boy is actually played by two different actors.  The young man performing the role when I saw it was Phillip Smith.  I was truly impressed as I watched the actor wearing pointy ears and fangs become the character hungry for acceptance and love.  He managed to transition from feral-cave-dwelling-monster to civilized-member-of-society with grace despite his young age.  Ruth Diaz (Meredith Parker) delivers a beautiful and tender multi-leveled performance that is believable despite some of the downright implausible scenarios.  Cody Daigle (Dr. Thomas Parker) is well matched with her and also gives us a wonderfully nuanced performance that allows the audience to see Dr. Parker’s struggle between his own desires and the desires of the ones he loves.  And somehow, despite his actions throughout the course of the story, we still manage to relate to him.  Martha Diaz (Shelley Parker) is perfect as the sassy, boy crazy, tempestuous teenager with a flair for the dramatic.  The supporting cast each brings something to the show that helps to create the atmosphere of the little town of Hope Falls, Virginia.  (Not the least of which is Cindy Hebert’s performance of both Mrs. Taylor and Reverend Hightower.  She is wonderfully committed to both roles and manages to be hysterical without upstaging her fellow actors.)

Along with the great performances come some truly great vocal abilities.  Again, the principals are wonderfully cast and all handle the songs with finesse and aptitude.  But I am painfully under qualified to say much more than that as I could not carry a tune in a suitcase.  Let me just say that no one made me want to plug my ears and that’s a thumbs up in my book.

The set was adequately designed, if somewhat sparse.  A viable solution considering how often the scenes changed.  The transitions were quick and didn’t leave the audience waiting for too long.  The musicians were wonderful and handled the score terrifically.  I would dare say the only disconcerting thing to go through as the audience member is the tonal shift that occurs during the production.  The first act is very upbeat and speaks to our human desire for redemption and a happy ending.  But in the last few seconds it turns.  We experience the intermission and creep back into the theatre unsure of what is to happen next.  The second act presents itself more like a greek tragedy.  And as the inexplicable story unfolds, the script still tries to maintain a sense of humor.  This can be challenging to both the director and actors.  And it sometimes leaves an audience member unsure of how to react.  But I daresay that’s nit-picking.
All in the all, the production was pretty darn good.  Solid direction, solid performances, solid script. And in my book, you can’t ask for more than that.  Make sure to see this production if you have the chance.  You won’t regret it.

---Cara Hayden
(This is Cara's first review for Acadiana Theatre Happenings.  She is well-known to all in the Lafayette theatre community)

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