In a cave many miles to the south,

Lives a boy born with fangs in his mouth.

silhouette of bat-like person

Photo Credit: Neil Jester

Now, that’s an opening line for the ages. But even before the first word was sung in Camel City Playhouse’s Bat Boy, the perfect scene was set for this offbeat rock horror musical; first, by the general atmosphere of the scrappy little venue (seating for 61) and, second, by the compact and evocative set design by Zachary Pfrimmer and Chris Cohen.

No quality community theatre production can be made without a solid volunteer cast and crew, and Bat Boy is no exception – But in this case, the leadership by Pfrimmer demands to be highlighted. This versatile theatre veteran not only contributed to the set design but he also stage directed, music directed, and choreographed the show.

Pfrimmer’s overarching influence no doubt has achieved cohesion in a show that could easily cross the line into chaos and absurdity in the wrong hands. Fear not! There’s plenty of action and humor to go around in Camel City’s Bat Boy, but there’s also a surprising amount of heart and sweetness.

There’s also plenty of fine singing, dancing, acting, and effective lighting, costume and wig design. My only quibble with the whole wacky show was a problem with the recorded score overwhelming a couple of the solos. The rock bombast was lots of fun, but it was a shame to lose any of these clever, fast-paced lyrics.

The costume/props people (Frances Locklear and Chris Cohen) have found some incredibly useful items – keep your eyes on Dr. Parker’s ducks. The costumes and wigs (with support from Carlos Nieto) helped make the doubling of characters/cast members distinctive and convincing.

A 1992 tabloid newspaper story about an alleged half-boy, half-bat discovered by teenagers in a cave in West Virginia inspired the creation of the musical, which debuted at Tim Robbins’ Actors’ Gang Theatre in 1997 in California. It opened Off-Broadway in 2001, and later ran on London’s West End, and has had many productions done by regional theatre companies.

The play’s creators – story and book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe – set the story in the fictional town of Hope Falls, WV. After spelunking teenagers find an uncivilized, half-grown creature in a cave, Bat Boy gets things off to a bad start by biting one of them, Ruthie Taylor. In the meantime, the local farmers’ cattle have been dying of a “mysterious” illness, so the townsfolk are primed to scapegoat the newly discovered wild child/bat creature. They want him dead.

Instead, a skeevy veterinarian, Dr. Parker; his kind wife; and their daughter, Shelley, foster the Bat Boy and name him Edgar. Mrs. Parker tries to educate him and help him assimilate into their narrow-minded, religiously hypocritical community, but she meets with resistance, to put it mildly. A series of dramatic and ridiculous events lead to shocking revelations about the Parkers’ past and Edgar’s origins.

young boy in a cage

Brayden Daughtery as Bat Boy/Edgar. Photo credit: Neil Jester

Brayden Daugherty was vampishly thrilling in the role of Bat Boy/Edgar. His fingernails are a perfectly too-long length without being talons, and his physicality was brilliant and powerful. He crouched impossibly close to the stage floor, and hissed catlike – or batlike (I don’t know; I’ve never been that close to a bat, thank goodness). He embodied the battle of id and ego that rages in his character, and in all of us to some degree. Bat Boy loves and longs for love, but he also longs for blood, and Daugherty simultaneously managed to be intensely lovable, pathetic, and terrifying.

Heather Levinson was tough and tender as Mrs. Parker, a patient teacher and loving parent. Her voice was in good form and meltingly warm, especially in “A Home for You.”

woman holds out hand to boy in cage

Heather Levinson as Mrs. Parker with Brayden Daughtery as Bat Boy/Edgar. Photo Credit: Neil Jester

Mrs. Parker models one way of mothering, and Mrs. Taylor quite another. In that role, Carlos Nieto is completely hilarious, parodying maternal smothering and outraged righteousness.

girl screaming

Shannon O’Grady as Bud. Photo credit: Neil Jester

Bat Boy’s foster sister, Shelley (inhabited beautifully by Reese Gardner), is all fierce, passionate, and compassionate girlhood. As the family patriarch, Dr. Parker was pretty pusillanimous in Kevin Rapier’s hands; he is sly and sneaky, a secret drinker, and a schemer in the guise of a mild-mannered healer, a real wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Carol Kenley was a standout comic in the role of Sheriff Reynolds. Lee Rock was especially energetic and despicable in the role of Rick Taylor, whose sister has been bitten by Bat Boy.

family looing defiant

Cast Ensemble
Photo Credit: Neil Jester

The ensemble is filled out by Sebastian Ariza (Ron Taylor/Maggie), Sonny Starling (Ruthie Taylor/Ned), Shannon O’Grady (Bud/Pan), Nicole Gonzales (Rev. Hightower/Mr. Dillon), and Kay Pollard (Daisy/Clem/Doctor). All of the ensemble’s singing voices are good, as is their acting, and everybody can dance!

There are so many interesting themes in Bat Boy that I hardly know where to start. It’s a parody of group think, prejudice, and mob hysteria. It is an allegory of the outsider. It is a Jungian examination of our shadow side, and a call to integrate our animal and human natures, as the last line of the play suggests: “Don’t deny the beast inside.”

Spend a little time with the Bat Boy. Maybe you’ll find your own story – or your own lesson – in there somewhere. And you’ll be wildly entertained while doing so.

Camel City Playhouse’s Bat Boy continues through Sunday, June 16.