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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Despite valiant efforts, ‘Bat Boy’ flounders in absurdity

Published: November 9, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

Built off of a tabloid story, “Bat Boy” could not have been more ambitious. The musical tells the story of a young bat humanoid found living in a cave and chronicles his struggle to learn the truth of love as he settles into human society, despite its overwhelming hate toward him. In concept, “Bat Boy” looks to use its unsettling subject matter, which includes not only the feral child to which the title refers, but also rape and incest, to raise important questions about humanity and compassion. While “Bat Boy” was never intended as a show that made logical sense, and rather sought to find its impact in emotional appeal, Tympanium Euphorium’s production seems to have lost its way and fallen prey to the sheer absurdity of the show.

It is from the standpoint of lighting and set that “Bat Boy” draws its greatest strengths. The production used light to establish mood and create emphasis during climactic moments, lending great strength to the most epic moments of the story. Clearly, great attention was also put into the set, which featured a cave-like structure dotted with blood and plastered with newspaper clippings about vampires and bats. The structure was put to great use, particularly in the end of the show in which the mouth of the cave was covered with a sheet and illuminated with green light, as silhouetted actors within served as a flashback to the Bat Boy’s dark origins. Costumes, for the most part, were similarly well-done, clearly evoking the musical’s setting and time. They suffered only one moment of imperfection, when a nature-themed sex scene featured two actors, transitioning very suddenly from fully-clothed to dressed entirely in leaves and quickly back again. While the artistic and thematic aims behind this costume change were clear and well done, in reality, the sudden switch and return was confusing and forced.

Despite this strong technical background, the musical aspects of “Bat Boy” struggled. The music was distinctly too loud, making it a challenge for the audience to hear the actors and forcing them to shout in an effort to be understood over both the music and each other. This greatly weakened the music of the show as a whole, as yelling distinctly reduced the quality of many vocal performances, which were already quite challenging. The choreography of the numerous dance numbers was very well-done, consistently matching mood and establishing the shows dark, romantic underpinnings—but unfortunately, the actual dancing did not do it’s choreography true justice. The cast was out-of-synch with both the music and each other, creating a series of awkward numbers in which the townspeople circled the main actors as more of a distraction than any kind of addition to the scene.

“Bat Boy” did, however, feature several strong performances from lead actors. Of particular note was Eliza Dumais ’14 as Meredith Parker, who’s strong and beautiful voice never faltered, and who’s acting ability provided the most emotional moments of the production. In the role of Meredith’s daughter, Shelley, Sarah Hines ’15 was similarly impressive and the songs shared by the two of them were easily the greatest moments of the show. In relatively smaller roles, Micheline Bellmore ’15 and Caley Chase ’16 also impressed, fully entrenching themselves in the portrayal of their respective characters. In the second half of the play, Jason Dick ’14 was a welcome presence in a pair of comedic roles that made use of his clearly considerable talents. Not every performance, unfortunately, stood up to such standards. In the early part of the play, Zev Kupfer ’15 showed great promise in his role as the titular Bat Boy (also called Edgar), fully occupying the fear and unsettling nature of a feral, half human child—but the performance began to fall flat as the anti-hero grew more socialized, lessening the part’s potential emotional impact as Kupfer struggled in the vocal demands of the part. In the role of Thomas Parker, Danny Steinberg ’15 similarly struggled, ultimately delivering a stilted and forced performance in dialogue and song alike.

It is clear that “Bat Boy” was an incredibly ambitious undertaking. To take a show that so finely walks the line between emotional impact and sheer absurdity was bound to present unique challenges, and much respect is due to all those involved in “Bat Boy” for such a valiant effort. Despite issues, it is clear that a great deal of thought and effort was put into the show. “Bat Boy” was a hard show with difficult roles and even more challenging subject matter and praise is undoubtedly due for all those who worked toward the final production, despite the fact that it fell short of its intended level.