The Edge of Our Bodies and Bat Boy: The Musical
Adam Rapp can be a divisive figure, to the point that New York Times scribe Christopher Isherwood has begged off on reviewing any more of the playwright's work. The Edge of Our Bodies, the Guthrie Theater's first foray into Rapp's extensive collection of work, has some clues as to why. At times the show feels as much like a reading of a script as it does a fully formed piece of theater. The story has its interesting points, and the performance of Ali Rose Dachis as lost teenager Bernadette saves the evening from being a complete snooze.
Bernadette is 16, a private-school student at some tony New England prep school, and pregnant. She has traveled to New York City to let her 19-year-old boyfriend know that she's expecting. She is wracked by morning sickness and an overwhelming sense of dread about the day. Most of her experiences are drawn from her journal, from which she reads—in a real test of endurance for all—seated in a chair, almost completely stationary, for the first part of the play.
The story takes unusual twists along the way, from spending time with her boyfriend's cancer-stricken father to the danger of taking up an older man's offer to come back to his hotel room. Though the story takes these situations into unexpected places, the sense of danger never leaves. You can't forget that this is a young woman all alone on a cold night in the big city, who spends time alone with a guy who quotes Bruce Springsteen's absolutely creepy "I'm on Fire" as some sort of foreplay.
In the end, those immediate dangers pass, leaving behind what should be a deeper ache for Bernadette, who is alone with her collected pain back in school. It's a subtle trick that Rapp doesn't pull off. The bluster of the first hour doesn't pay off, and the final moments of the play don't feel sad, happy, or tragic, just a bit dull.
Along the way, we get clues as to where the current Bernadette is, physically and mentally. Rapp has crafted a complex, breathing creation that is, in turn, fully inhabited by Dachis. Alone onstage except in one short scene, Dachis takes all of the audience's focus and uses it as additional fuel for her performance. Though Bernadette is often low-key—perhaps unsure of the conflicting emotions bubbling beneath the surface—Dachis brings out the pain and confusion so central to the little lost girl.
When I first heard about the play, my main question was whether a piece in which the central character reads her experiences instead of relating them to the audience really needed to be theater. Rapp's piece, especially with Dachis's performance, reaches that plateau. It doesn't, however, go much further into something the audience can embrace. We listen to Bernadette's story, but we never get a chance to live it.
THE ORIGINAL 2004 production of Bat Boy: The Musical became one of the biggest hits in Minneapolis Musical Theatre's history, and it solidified the company's position as the go-to place for off-kilter entertainment (they've since tackled the likes of Jerry Springer: The Opera and Zombie Prom). MMT returns to the well with another go at Bat Boy in a largely entertaining revival that works hard to bridge the gap between the absurd and the heart-wrenching.
After the titular character is found deep in a cave in West Virginia, the nearby townsfolk want him put down like some crazed animal, but the wife and daughter of the local vet decide instead to protect the young boy-creature. Over time, they are able to civilize the Bat Boy, and he becomes a well-spoken and bright young man. However, his appearance is somewhat horrific, and his eating habits—drinking blood—make everyday contact difficult. In the end, it comes down to whether the neighbors can put away their prejudices and allow this unusual creature into their hearts.
The Weekly World News-inspired plot is deliciously absurd, while Laurence O'Keefe's rock-inspired songs are at turns funny, insightful, and even a bit emotional, especially as the doomed affair at the center of the play takes flight. As the Bat Boy, Tyler Michaels is fantastic, bringing the bat side of the character to life throughout, even when becoming more civilized.
The current production does feel a bit loose, however, at times slogging along from moment to moment instead of building up to the conclusion. That robs Bat Boy of some of its charm and energy, as belly-laugh-funny moments are followed up with dully staged bits of exposition. It's too bad, as the show, otherwise, has plenty to recommend it.
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