Bat Boy: The Musical, currently on the boards at Southern Rep in a well-crafted, exuberant production directed by New Yorker Emma Griffin, is usually described as a cult hit. It ran for a little less than a year off-Broadway in 2001, where it made quite a stir -- garnering Best O. B. Musical in both the Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortell Awards.
The show is based loosely on a series of articles that ran in the tongue-in-cheek supermarket tabloid The Weekly World News. Some spelunking teenagers from a West Virginia village called Hope Falls happen upon a little critter, who seems to be part boy, part bat. The critter is put in a cage in the home of the town veterinarian, Thomas Parker. Unfortunately, Parker's is a troubled household.
Shelley, the teenage daughter, thinks it would be cool to "keep" the Bat Boy as a pet. Her mother, Meredith, feels a deeper harmony with the beast -- expressed in a charming duet in which they communicate with melodic "ooh"s.
Parker's first impulse is to put the Bat Boy down with a lethal injection -- but he relents, after coercing sexual favors from his estranged wife. Meanwhile, as one expects, the townsfolk are grumbling about the freak of nature whom they blame for an epidemic that is devastating their cows.
We fast-forward to a fashionable, educated, polite young Bat Boy with a British accent ("those BBC tapes are really helping!"). Bat Boy now wants to be accepted by humanity, even though he's different. The vet promises the overwrought townsfolk that Bat Boy won't attend their revival meeting, but his wife and daughter defy him. And, to everyone's surprise (certainly mine), the bald, Anglified, pointy-eared charmer actually wins them over.
However, the story takes an odd turn. The vet's jealousy about the Bat Boy has been growing by leaps and bounds. Now he decides to take revenge, framing the Bat Boy for murders he himself commits. The Bat Boy flees. The daughter flees with him. And they have an idyll of love alone on the mountains, while the townsfolk set out in pursuit.
But here the story takes another twist (which I won't reveal) that catapults us into still deeper waters. Whew! Or, as the hip young set puts it, "Whatever!" And that is clearly the best attitude -- since there is a great deal to enjoy here, if you're not too fastidious about coherence.
The staging is fun, to begin with. In David Korins' setting, everything takes place amid a miniature landscape, where wooden cows munch contentedly on green grass. And the four-piece band (under André du Broc's musical direction) gets plenty of bounce to the ounce, whether the song is rock, gospel, rap or tango.
The cast is fine to excellent. Adam Hose is utterly hypnotic as the newly discovered Bat Boy, somehow creating a creature who really is a creature, and he remains engaging through his many transformations. Andrea Frankle, as the daughter, gives us freshness, candor and unforced vulnerability -- but we've come to expect as much. Lara Grice tosses us a baker's dozen of bold and delightful monkeyshines -- enriching the text with a lovely zaniness. Jerry Lee Leighton once again shows us the befuddled, almost endearing soul of a small-town sheriff. Brace Harris puts some good moves on us as bad boy Rick Taylor, and Michael Larché raises the roof with "A Joyful Noise" as the right Rev. Hightower (not to mention cameos as a rancher, a hysterical mother and the god Pan!).
Meanwhile, over at the Contemporary Arts Center, Dog and Pony recently offered us Looziana Roulette from artist-in-residence John Grimsley, who wrote, directed and starred in this oddity. In a motel room on Airline Highway (summoned up in all its lurid splendor by Anthony Favre), a mysterious, desperate, ex-G man plays some dangerous games of cat and mouth with a Times-Picayune reporter (Anthony Bean), his old partner and lover (Scott Jefferson), a snitch of a pizza delivery boy (Scott Edwards), and a whore (Shanda Quintal). The staging was dark, mysterious, suggestive. And, we seemed at first to be in a post-modern thriller.
As it turned out, we were in a joke. A sort of shaggy-dog story -- as in Reservoir Dogs. For, as the violence, sex and conspiracy spiraled out of control into ever more outlandish hyperbole, we learned we were, in fact, only on a movie set. Some good acting and inventive staging got this curiosity off to an intriguing start. But, in the end, a shaggy-dog story always amuses the teller more than the told.
- Live and learn: Meredith Parker (Lara Grice) tries to teach her freak of a house guest (Adam Hose) in Southern Rep's current staging of Bat Boy: The Musical.