Opening Nights: Blue Surge, Bat Boy the Musical

An odd duck and a flying rat.

Blue Surge

Chamber Theater, 915 E. Pine St., 325-6500, $15–$18. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. Ends Oct. 20.

A small-town drama that trucks in a handful of fairly well-worn genre stereotypes, Blue Surge nonetheless moves in some surprising directions. The setup is clear and morally precise: A ragtag police force executes a botched sting on a massage parlor suspected of offering the extra perk of prostitution; two of the cops involved, one an obnoxious swinger and the other a bighearted lunk, fall for two of the masseuses, throwing all of their lives into chaos. Rebecca Gilman's play, however, offers a refreshing fillip on a familiar formula. By digging into the anxieties, resentments, and skewed hopes springing from social and economic status, Chicago-based Gilman is able to investigate an emotional terrain that remains largely uncharted by modern American drama.

The production is not entirely successful. The early scenes in the massage parlor are too bawdy and farcical, and don't jibe well with the play's heavier emotional content. This unevenness in tone at times gives the play a sitcom aspect. Nonetheless, the production is more than carried along by a frequency of fine moments.

Directed by Elissa Walstead, a New York transplant making her Seattle debut, Blue Surge takes as its central relationship the platonic but emotionally charged affair between Curt (Andy Clawson) and Sandy (Brenda Joyner), a cop yearning for human connection and a whore whose shyness belies both smarts and ambition. Curt's partner, Doug (Robert Walker), a dippy dude with a player's swagger, falls in turn for Sandy's co-worker, the brash and boisterous Heather (Alyssa Keene). When Doug and Heather's party-happy shenanigans drive Sandy in desperation from her own apartment, Curt takes her in, much to the displeasure of his girlfriend, Beth (Jennessa Richert-West). The resulting conflict, which comes to a quietly intense boil, is where this play finds its real strength. As Curt explains to his well-heeled girlfriend, it is not sexual attraction but a feeling of ease and camaraderie that draws him to Sandy—a feeling he has never experienced with Beth, with her privileged, upper-middle-class upbringing and disapproval of Curt's lack of sophistication. It is moments such as this, so daring and authentic, that make Blue Surge an original and engaging piece of work, and one fully worth seeing despite its faults. RICHARD MORIN

Bat Boy the Musical

ArtsWest, 4711 California Ave. S.W., 938-0339, $10–$32. 7:30 p.m. Wed.–Sun., with some matinees and late-night shows. Ends Nov. 10.

In the theatrical equivalent of phone-booth stuffing, ArtsWest has packed its little fringe stage in West Seattle with a sprawling, boisterous, and entirely strange musical, and the results are pretty impressive. Directed by the theater's education director, Christopher Zinovitch, Bat Boy the Musical—with story and book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, and music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe—is a quirky retooling of the Frankenstein/Edward Scissorhands myth, with the beast in question here being a humanoid sort of bat creature discovered during a stoned caving expedition.

The bat boy is at first embraced for his exotic appeal before arousing the hatred (i.e., racism) of the community; he is framed for murder and hunted by a mob, while a few good souls come to his aid. All this follows a fairly predictable arc; the real surprise is the sheer energy of the cast in action. Nobody onstage is spectacularly adept, and no single performance carries the show. That said, once the entire ensemble finds its footing, Bat Boy becomes an engaging study in cooperative exuberance, good will, and tenacious can-do. And it's almost impossible not to be caught up in such irrepressible spirit.

Troy Wageman, who played in both West Side Story and Pippin at the 5th Avenue, stars as the titular monster, and he brings a charming blend of childlike naïveté and cheek-pinching cutes to the role; he's also the strongest singer onstage, which is just as it should be. Also quite good are the trio of actors comprising the Parker family, which takes in the forlorn bat boy: ArtsWest veteran Nick DeSantis (tick, tick...BOOM) plays the devious Dr. Parker, Krystle Armstrong plays his spirited teenage daughter Shelly, and Heather Hawkins, who won a Footlight Award for her stunning performance in ArtsWest's As Bees in Honey Drown, gives her all as the kindhearted wife Meredith. Also noteworthy is Evan Woltz, who pulls off a hilarious hat trick as the hickish cattleman Roy, the beleaguered, lowbrow mother Mrs. Taylor, and the Rev. Hightower, a Holy Roller with a Baptist flair for quick takes and smooth talk. In a nice touch, a live band—hidden behind a circular screen upon which chapter titles are flashed—performs all the music, giving the show a heady feeling of immediacy and risk. In fact, a sense of daring suffuses the whole production.

Originally created in 1997 for L.A.'s Actor's Gang Theater, Bat Boy was inspired by a wildly popular article about a half-bat, half-boy in Weekly World News, and ArtsWest does a great job of capturing both the absurdity and the humanity that fuels such surreal tabloid fodder. RICHARD MORIN

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