Though the offbeat, cult classic "Bat Boy: The Musical" is not about baseball, the Augustana College students who will bring it to life this weekend are hoping for a hit.|
Described by The New York Times as "a jaggedly imaginative mix of skewering humor and energetic glee," the unusual horror comedy is based on a 1992 Weekly World News article about a half-boy, half-bat named Bat Boy.
It premiered at Actors Gang Theatre in Los Angeles in 1997 and racked up raves from the mainstream New York Post ("an instant classic") to the highbrow New Yorker ("smart, playful, and funny"). It won awards for best Off-Broadway musical including the Lucille Lortel Award, two Richard Rodgers Awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Outer Critics Circle Award in 2001.
Kathryn Martin, an Augustana senior theater arts and communication studies major from Clinton, Iowa, plays Meredith, the mother of Bat Boy's eventual love interest. "It has been a very interesting experience," she said. "It has been a lot of fun and a great musical to end my senior year with. It has also been a great opportunity to do different styles of music and dance in one show."
Rescued from a cave and taken in by the empathetic wife of the local veterinarian, "Edgar" quickly learns to speak and act in civilized ways – even falling in love with his mentor's daughter. Danger looms, however, as we learn a deep, dark secret, according to a "Bat Boy" synopsis from a Minneapolis production last fall. "This off-kilter satire offers clever musical numbers, a hilarious plot, surprising twists, and a lesson in the agony of being different and accepting your inner beast!"
Calvin Vo, a junior from Moline majoring in theater arts and English, plays Bat Boy, and Samantha Kammerman, a freshman from Milan majoring in liberal studies, plays the roles of Ron Taylor, Maggie, and Clem Kammerman.
For Jacqui Schmidt, a senior English and theater arts major from Algonquin, Ill., the play is especially intriguing, as she did extensive research on it to assist the director and set designer, and cap her senior inquiry project in dramaturgy. That project explores the similarities between "Bat Boy" and William Shakespeare's famous tragedy, "The Tempest," particularly his character Caliban.
"We have taken a more macabre approach to this production," Ms. Schmidt said. "Bat Boy, the bat part of him, feeds on blood. How does he overcome that to become human? Overall, it has a tragic ending. I wanted to really highlight the Bat Boy life; he has human qualities, but very few people recognize them, and that's similar to 'The Tempest.'"
Caliban (Prospero's slave and the only native inhabitant of the island) is also a part-human, misunderstood monster, described by Encyclopedia Britannica as "a feral, sullen, misshapen creature, in Shakespeare's 'The Tempest.'" Shakespeare gives Caliban "some complexity, with the result that the character has drawn much critical attention, both in contrast to Ariel and Ferdinand and as a symbol, perhaps, of the natural human," according to the encyclopedia.
A mound in the woods in "Bat Boy" also recalls the "Tempest" island, Ms. Schmidt said. Both Bat Boy and Caliban "learn to speak human language, communicate with the larger community, but they're still treated like a beast even though they have these human qualities as well," she said.
"I think what's really striking about both Bat Boy and Caliban is how they speak," Ms. Schmidt said. "Bat Boy learns to speak by listening to tapes from the BBC. That helps him learn words and diction. In the world of 'The Tempest,' Caliban speaks in verse -- beautiful, poetic language -- and outsiders speak in prose, a less elevated form of language."
The wacky "Bat Boy: The Musical" often is seen as a fluff piece, without any academic context, but in Ms. Schmidt's pre-show talks (12:30 p.m. Sunday and 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 4, in Larson Hall) she'll use "The Tempest" to bring in that context, describe similarities between these key characters and explain the blurring distinctions between human and beast.
For this collaboration between Opera@Augustana and the school's theater department, Ms. Schmidt also created displays inside and outside of Potter Theatre that incorporate information on the story and detail her vision of the show.
If you go
What: "Bat Boy: The Musical."
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and May 4-5, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday and May 6.
Where: Potter Theatre, Bergendoff Hall of Fine Arts, Augustana College, Rock Island.
Tickets: $14; $12 for students and seniors, available by calling (309) 794-7306 or at augustana.edu/tickets.
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