The Mara Lecture Hall at SNHU is dark and silent this Tuesday evening, Oct. 9; Joel Mercier is directing the first full run-through of Bat Boy: The Musical. There will be no stops, no corrections, no backtracking. As the headlamps flicker on in the first scene, the actors jump right into character as Rick, Ron and Ruthie Taylor, finding Bat Boy (Joel Iwaskiewicz) in a West Virginia cave.
The New Thalian Players cast have been rehearsing intensively for the past eight weeks for Bat Boy: The Musical, which premieres Friday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m., in the university’s Walker Auditorium.
Mercier snaps his fingers to keep beat in the first song (“Hold Me Bat Boy”), and Iwaskiewicz Bat Boy-scrambles like a pro in this opening scene.
Though the lines are hilarious and pretty out-there (“It hates Fritos?! You have to lock it up!”), and the song is very catchy (“In a cave many miles to the south/Lived a boy born born with fangs in his mouth”), it’s evident from the storyline and the acting that this show presents more than a good time.
The story follows a family’s and a town’s journey as they bring this deformed “bat boy” into their lives. Bat Boy finds an immediate home in the household of local veterinarian Dr. Parker and his family. Bat Boy (later named Edgar by the mother, Meredith) quickly adapts to human life, learning English, becoming educated, becoming more human than bat. But things get complicated; there’s also love, murder, incest, burning buildings and a science experiment gone horribly wrong.
“It’s a beautiful story, but it’s also a really sad story, once you take out the absurd humor, the absurd plot point. At the lowest common denominator, it’s about a town who won’t accept someone because they’re different,” Mercier said.
The production was written based on 1992 Weekly World News story about a half-boy, half-bat (Bat Boy) found living in a cave. It opened off-Broadway at the Union Square Theatre in 2001, later to be played in London’s West End Shaftesbury Theatre in 2004. The picture of Bat Boy became a bit of a trademark for the paper; Bat Boy has a recurring presence in the now-online tabloid (last reported to be Romney’s running mate, said director Joel Mercier). But Bat Boy the Musical has only been shown in New Hampshire four times until now. If you’re going to see Bat Boy, now is the time to do it.
Iwaskiewicz says Bat Boy is one of the most complex characters he’s ever played.
He first got a glimpse of his costume in early October — full prosthetic ears, fake teeth, fangs and ripped clothes, thanks to efforts by makeup artist Jon Fisher. The most difficult thing about playing Bat Boy is that he changes, both in physical appearance and in mannerisms. He begins the production dirty, dressed in rags, his hair matted with twigs from the woods, and evolves into an educated, English-speaking, corduroy-wearing citizen. He even develops a British accent and sports a bow tie to emphasize his properness.
“You have to be completely animalistic in the beginning, and later carry yourself as a proper Brit. It’s a challenge because you have to make changes, both physically and vocally, not just based on emotion, but also in the evolution of the character,” Iwaskiewicz said.
It’s almost Shakespearean in its scope and complexity, Iwaskiewicz said.
“This character becomes this pinnacle of civility, so well composed, so intelligent, but as you later realize, this character has a breaking point. There’s still an animalistic part in him,” he said. “As he grows aware of himself, he also becomes aware that not everyone is accepting of him.”
The music helps carry this idea; Bat Boy (Edgar) takes to music before anything else, and as the production goes on, we see the character change through music. It starts with simple notes, a basic melody, but as he becomes more self- aware, he’s hitting monstrous notes, and the songs become almost like rock anthems, Iwaskiewicz said.
“In any show you do, it’s important for an actor to have a journey of some kind on stage, and the journey of Edgar as Bat Boy is huge. In the beginning, he has the animalistic light, but he’s fine with it because he doesn’t know anything better. But then he learns — he becomes aware of what he’s missing, and it’s all torn apart,” Mercier said. Hopefully, audience members will not only leave thinking, “This was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” as they head out the door, but also about the tragedy of the story, having developed an attachment to the characters, he said.