Unlike the bats that shriek at night and unlike Gotham City’s crime-fighting Bruce Wayne, another kind of bat is flying to the Ann Arbor stage.
Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Arthur Miller Theatre
The School of Music, Theatre & Dance is presenting “Bat Boy.” This award-winning musical presents a story of fantasy and comedic witticism. Though it appears to be all in fun, there’s a serious note that runs throughout the play. Through themes of bigotry and discrimination, “Bat Boy” celebrates the need to search within ourselves for the acceptance of others.
In the small town of Hope Falls, W. Va., three boys are attacked by the half-bat, half-boy creature they discover in a cave. Consequently, they haul Bat Boy back to town, where the sheriff places him under the care of the local veterinarian, Dr. Parker. The veterinarian’s family takes him in, giving him love and education along the way. Unfortunately, Dr. Parker grows increasingly jealous of the attention Bat Boy is receiving. As the townsfolk begin threatening Bat Boy, controversy propagates and unspeakable events occur.
This may seem like a ludicrous situation, said Linda Goodrich, associate professor in the School of MT&D. Yet it deals with a very serious subject, and can be interpreted as an allegory for homophobia, racism or any other form of persecution.
“It’s not pointing the finger at any one person,” Goodrich said. “Except it’s pointing the finger at everyone, and how afraid they are of anyone different from themselves.”
Through humor, this poignant tale becomes more palatable. Ryan Vasquez, an MT&D junior, playing Bat Boy, described how the show is absurd and melodramatic. However, this outlandish component makes the audience involved in the narrative. The audience is forced to judge the characters who persecute Bat Boy, and, in the process, persuaded to look at themselves and see how they are also alienating him in the same way.
Comedy is also present in the eclectic score. Different genres of music make their way into the production including gospel, rap and traditional musical theater numbers. Vasquez claims that humor is generated from the transitions between these pieces.
The costumes also serve as an avenue of humor. Many of the fast changes backstage are supposed to be done seamlessly while others have farcical elements that are altered in front of the audience. Vasquez explained that some male characters wear blouses and hats and then take them off to transform into rugged farmers.
Vasquez may not be a half-animal, half-human, but he did have to shave his head for the show.
“Now I have a short buzz,” Vasquez said. “I will also be wearing fangs that click into my teeth, and pointy ears.”
The bat features of his character are communicated more through his behavior and his physicality, Goodrich claims. He crouches and hangs upside-down, and then is taught to behave more like a human, gradually becoming more upright and proper.
“Bat Boy” is a cautionary tale. In the last line of the production, all the actors stand and sing, “don’t deny your beast inside.”
“Although I do think that’s corny and poetic, there’s something to be said about the solidarity you have with any group you aren’t a part of,” Vasquez said of the show’s plot. “You become able to see things from their perspective. As you watch this situation unfold, you can take away the idea that it’s not so extreme, but rather it’s in your backyard, and you need to be able to tolerate whatever it is that you may find disturbing.”