`Bat Boy' is a comedy - with bite

A campy message at Spotlighters

Stage: theater, music, dance

May 27, 2004|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

A musical called Bat Boy featuring a title character with fangs and Vulcan ears might naturally be assumed to concern matters of blood.

Ultimately, though, the play is really about heart, says Terry J. Long, the director of a new production of Bat Boy opening at Spotlighters Theatre tomorrow night.

The play has the distinction of being one of the few theatrical productions - perhaps the only one - to have been inspired by a tabloid sensation: the Weekly World News "scoop" about the discovery in a West Virginia cave of a creature who was half-boy, half-bat.

In the play, "Bat Boy" is taken into a local home, where he learns English - and develops a British accent - by listening to BBC tapes. The outlandish story has doses of love, betrayal, tragedy, hysteria and, of course, biting.

As might be expected from such material, Bat Boy is heavy on camp and humor, yet, Long says, audiences will find its essential message surprisingly moving.

"It's basically a beautiful story about tolerance," he said.

It is not happenstance, Long said, that Bat Boy's run coincides with the Pride Season, the month of celebration for gays and lesbians, a group that often struggles for acceptance. In its own kooky way, Bat Boy too concerns itself with the abhorrence of those who are different.

"It can be compared to Edward Scissorhands and The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Long said. "It's the story about a beautiful person who because of circumstances grew up misshapen, and people fear him because he represents what is unknown."

Those familiar with Long's directing career - much of it at Spotlighters - won't be surprised with his choice of such florid material as Bat Boy. Long, 42, has directed several of the plays of Terrence McNally, including Corpus Christi, in which Jesus and the disciples are portrayed as gay. ("We were very disappointed that we didn't get the protesters who said they were going to show up for that one," he said.) He has also put on Psycho Beach Party, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and, what he believes will become a perennial Christmas classic in Baltimore, Rudolph the Red-Hosed Reindeer, about a transvestite reindeer with a weakness for red stockings.

"I'm the one they go to if they need something that's campy, or something with alternative-lifestyle themes," he said.

Long, whose day job is teaching theater at the Children's Guild, says he was initially attracted to Bat Boy after hearing the original-cast album. "The music ranges from rap to rock to gospel to Broadway standards, a complete array of different types of music," he said. "While it's been a lot of fun, it's been a lot more difficult than people who were cast in the show thought it might be."

The play is meant to be wickedly funny and arch, although, Long says, it delivers "an emotional wallop at the end." He instructs his cast not to play their characters in a self-mocking way. "Play them," he tells his cast, "as if they were real."

Long admits that advice derives in part from his recent heart surgery. The experience tempered his sarcasm and the bite of his humor. "Nobody," he said, "should be discounted."

And beneath the camp and the absurdity and the blood, that is also the underlying theme of Bat Boy.

"With the title and its being from the Weekly World News, which is a gossip rag, I think there's a message that will really touch hearts," Long said.

"Bat Boy" runs tomorrow through June 26 at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15. Call 410-752-1225.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 36.

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