Just like the saying, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt,” camp ain’t just a tent pitched in the wilderness.
The Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s production of Bat Boy: The Musical pitches its tent securely within the sanctuary of campy theater. The first half of the show is wonderfully kitsch and spectacularly silly to live up to the camp style, but it’s also anchored by wit and never loses direction. Actor Tyler Michaels is a gem as Bat Boy—the very image of the infamous Weekly World news photo every time he’s caught in the beam of a character’s flashlight. Michaels is flexible to the point of oddness in his vocal and physical range, which solidifies his otherworldly characterization of Edgar. He’s believable as the weird genius who picks up skills better than the humans around him that he’s imitating.
The innocent enthusiasm that Michaels puts into Edgar gives Bat Boy its heart. The sounds Michaels makes, which range from duck-like to puppyish, snare the audiences affection from the get-go, despite the fact that biting another character is the audiences introduction to him. The scene where Edgar and Meredith (played by Corey de Danann) sing back and forth to each other, with Edgar just making sounds without understanding content, captures all the elation of making one’s first friend. Much of the humor in the play is sustained by Michaels’s delivery of satirical zingers in the English accent that Edgar learned from the BBC.
The darker aspects in the first act—from Edgar’s mysterious thirst for blood, to Tim Kuehl’s pleasurably unhinged portrayal of Dr. Thomas Parker—effectively skewers the power imbalances hidden and protected by a hetero, middle-class society. The first half of Bat Boy is like a high five to all rad outcasts who can’t pretend their way into belonging in a nice-faced hypocritical social group.
Unfortunately the second act doesn’t thrill quite as thoroughly, but still delivers in content. It’s not uncommon for camp to include aspects of sexual violence in an over-the-top manner. (Case in point, in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, Divine is raped by a crustacean.) The second act of Bat Boy includes the retelling of a rape which turns the buoyant mood of the comedy into the apprehension of, Oh no, where are they going to go with this? While implausible as it may seem, the excusal of the rapist leads to moral dissonance within the audience, playing precisely on what the TV tropes wiki calls the ”What do you mean its not horrible?” kind. Camp is the only style might get a pass since as a genre it uses discomfort to raise questions. I found the second act puzzling in a way that has kept me wondering. Bat Boy: The Musical is recommended for fans of camp and media buffs who enjoy questioning the shape and purpose of art.
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