Many of us have forgotten Bat Boy--that pointy-eared, sharp-toothed, bug-eyed specimen whose one-time appearance on a 1992 tabloid cover set new standards of sorts for desktop computer photo fakery. But obscurity hasn't stopped Actors' Gang from dramatizing his story in "Bat Boy: The Musical," the company's original contribution to this year's Loco Motion festival.
Embellished with whimsical bat songs by Laurence O'Keefe, the bat book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming concocts a tale of alienation and interspecies bigotry around a half-human mutant (Deven May) raised by bats.
Discovered in a West Virginia cave, the screeching Bat Boy is delivered to the care of the sinister local vet (Chris Wells) and his squeaky-clean wife (Kaitlin Hopkins). Between pert homilies dispensed to her sexually awakening daughter (Ann Closs), Hopkins' Super Mom undertakes the daunting challenge of civilizing Bat Boy, whom she christens Edgar. Though he evolves into an erudite gentleman, Edgar's attempts at assimilation run afoul of small-minded villagers and his own animal nature.
Picture "The Elephant Man" as Tim Burton might have filmed it, and you've got the idea. Farley's staging elevates his mock-operatic freak saga above trivial, self-aware camp by playing it with deadpan earnestness. Hopkins, May and Closs excel in this regard, making their characters all the funnier through their intensity and commitment to the inane dialogue (they also have the strongest singing voices in an uneven ensemble).
Attempts at genuine pathos, however, are undercut by the implicit smirk inherited from the show's tabloid genes. Also, the belaboring of familiar plot elements extends the running time well past anything the slender premise can sustain--a good 40-minute trimming is desperately needed. Also mandatory is an improvement in the precariously steep seating arrangements, which sent one patron into a potentially injurious tumble. Remember, this is a theater--not the Bat Cave.
* "Bat Boy: The Musical," Actors' Gang El Centro Space, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. and Dec. 1; dark Nov. 27. Ends Dec. 7. $12. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.