Arts Listings

Altarena Playhouse Stages ‘Bat Boy’ in Alameda

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday October 02, 2008 - 09:49:00 AM

“In a cave many miles to the south/Lived a boy with fangs in his mouth ...” Teenage spelunkers bring back a bundle with pointed ears after caving near their hometown of Hope Falls, West Virginia. And the local citizenry is up in arms—and song—over the advent of Bat Boy in their fold, where the slaughterhouse is empty because the cattle are scrawny and moribund, and the social event of the year is the revival meeting. 

Bat Boy: The Musical opens with a preposterous set-up, and, as one of the local rednecks might have said, just gets preposterouser. It’s a raucous, goofy, off-kilter dysfunctional family entertainment, staged with elan by Alameda’s Altarena Playhouse, and running through Hallowe’en, closing on All Saints Day. 

And from moment to moment, it’s a free-floating burlesque of other musicals, a kind of cracker My Fair Lady (or Dr. Doolittle), as Edgar the Bat Boy (remarkable Alex Rodriguez, a singing Lon Chaney) goes from feral to unxious, thanks to the seemingly inexplicable mother love which Meredith (trouper Lisa-Marie Newton)—wife to the town vet, Doc Parker (Paul Plain, co-director and, as actor, embued with a little bit of Harvey Korman/Tim Conway over-the-top stuff)—lavishes on the squeaking foundling, till a set of BBC language tapes has him pouring tea and acting all pukah.  

From Bat Boy’s first melodic ululations, swinging in his cage, to production numbers featuring the batty boy in top hat, with cane, accompanied by the entire cast of 14 (and the stalwart quartet in the flies, guitar, bass and drums led by Sierra Dee on keyboards), the songs wash over the fast-moving, brilliantly paced show, with titles like “Hey Freak,” “Christian Charity,” “Let Me Walk Among You” and “Apology to a Cow” (when Bat Boy gets the thirst, excusing himself to a cowhead like the horse’s in The Godfather). The timing is so much on the money that the otherwise diverting—and ghastly funny—surprise, sung exposition of the boy’s Gothic family romance (with a tango) and nativity near the end only slows down the slick proceedings a little. 

The cast, with Angelo Benedetto and Plain’s direction, participate equally in its effectiveness. To single out a few, Ron Dritz is a splendid, deadpan sheriff and Jonathan Reisfield does screwy triple duty as a townsman, faith healer Rev. Billy Hightower laying hands on the penitent Bat Boy, and trailer trash Mrs. Taylor, shrieking over her brood, in curlers with a cigarette stuck in the lipstick amid stubble. 

Katie Behnke, a Miramonte High senior from Orinda, handles teenage love interest Shelly with both energy and poise. 

It’s a compound of a diverse range of guilty pleasures, contemporary successor to that old American stage mode, the parody melodrama that morphed into horror with Dracula. From a crazed vet putting locals down with the hypo he’s always brandishing, to blessings bestowed on teenage love by the Great God Pan, Bat Boy’s fun is in part the delicious sense it’s all going to end badly. An anthem to Otherness, to small town mania and the strangest of family values, “Know your Bat Boy,/Love your Bat Boy.” 


8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 1. Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda. $17-$20.