Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of Kevin Scott Hall's A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir by Andrew P. Clunn

This review of Kevin Scott Hall's book A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir was written by Andrew P. Clunn and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir
Author: Kevin Scott Hall
Publisher: Wisdom Moon Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1938459245
Reviewed 7/16/14

A Quarter Inch From My Heart: A Memoir is Kevin Scott Hall's second book, and first non-fiction title, a memoir about his tumultuous relationship with his on-and-off roommate Maurice. The chapters often alternate, with sections chronicling Kevin's life before meeting Maurice, and others covering the progression of their relationship. Maurice is a troubled man, losing everything in hurricane Katrina, and Kevin intends to put things right. Of course Kevin is also troubled, and his drive to mend Maurice's life clearly has some roots in his own need for validation and direction. While the events of Kevin's memoir are tragic (drug addiction, AIDS, the loss of friends, and unprovoked violence), the real draw is in his reactions to them, presented in naked introspection.

There's a lack of pretense at internal continuity that makes this such an honest memoir. Many people pretend at being rational, claiming that the views they hold now have always been a part of them, hiding the conflict and uncertainty of their resolve behind retroactively constructed narrative. Kevin makes no attempts at this. He embraces his emotional fickle nature and lays it bare on the page. There's a passage where Kevin has had it with Maurice, when he was left to move apartments on his own while Maurice disappeared for a half week bender. He is done. He's tired of being used. Of being lied to. Of being expected to carry the weight of another human being unwilling to change and seemingly ungrateful for everything he's done for him. Then, within the same page, he reverses himself, knowing full well that his friends won't understand, but that he just is not going to give up on Maurice.

This honesty, about Kevin's failures, his personal tragedies, and the raw emotions that guide his choices make him a deeply sympathetic narrator of his own life. I found myself instinctively judging and scoffing at his decisions, but consistently disarmed by his frankness. "Going to New York to try to pursue a career as a performer." How naive, I thought. Then as he openly discussed the things he learned through his attempts at such a career, failures up front, I was left grateful for the lessons rather than condemning his choice. "Oh, you have a therapist for your depression. So now you're going to talk about how damaged and fragile you are, right?" Then he shared his story of being stabbed by a stranger on the street.

Granted, this infectious sympathy doesn't mean that I'd take life coaching advice from Kevin. The fact that the memoir so effectively made me empathize with him only heightened my frustration with his choices because I cared about the outcome. In some ways this allowed me to further relate to his relationship with Maurice. Here he was, knowing the plight of his friend, knowing he has it within him to be more than a victim of his failures, and yet helpless to change him or make better decisions for him. Less is expected of the reader by Kevin than of Kevin by Maurice of course, but there's a similar lesson. Another person's story is theirs to write, and your only choice is whether to keep participating by reading along. 

Were I a religious person, I'd likely have found this to be an inspirational work. Faith certainly plays a prominent role in the choices and outlook that Kevin has during his time with Maurice. For me though, I see it as a character study, an honest look at events through the thoughts and perspectives of the man who lived them, providing insight into a novel way of thinking. This is a book that made me feel as though I knew a person. It didn't try to make me like them, or agree with them, but just honestly let me know them. And I came away realizing that is exactly what I think a memoir ought to be. Worth reading to the end.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of StageLight Entertainment's Bat Boy: The Musical at The BACCA Arts Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of StageLight Entertainment's production of Bat Boy: The Musical at The BACCA Arts Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Bat Boy: The Musical
StageLight Entertainment Production
The BACCA Arts Center (149 Wellwood Avenue, Lindenhurst, NY)
Reviewed 7/11/14

Bat Boy: The Musical, with book written by Keythe Farley & Brian Flemming and music and lyrics written by Laurence O'Keefe, is based on a June 23, 1992 Weekly World News story about a half-boy, half-bat dubbed "Bat Boy" who grew up living in a cave. It was first developed at The Directors Company and had its world premiere at Tim Robbins' Actors Gang Theatre on October 31, 1997 in Los Angeles. The musical opened off-Broadway at the Union Square Theatre on March 21, 2001 closing on December 2, 2001. It played at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and then opened in the West End at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London on September 8, 2004 running through January 15, 2005. Bat Boy: The Musical won awards for best Off-Broadway musical including the Lucille Lortel Award, two Richard Rodgers Awards from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and the Outer Critics Circle Award in 2001.

The story is intentionally ridiculous. Dr. Thomas Parker, a young veterinarian developing a prototype pheromone for cows accidentally spills it on Meredith, his assistant, causing him to rape her in a fit of sexual desire. While on her way home, Meredith is sexually violated again by a colony of bats and nine months later, she gives birth to a girl, who they name Shelley, and to a half-bat baby boy who Dr. Parker eventually leaves at the mouth of a cave, where the baby is adopted and brought up by bats. Years later, three spelunkers, Ron, Rick & Ruthie Taylor discover Bat Boy, who bites Ruthie in the neck. They bring him back alive and Sheriff Reynolds places him in the custody of Dr. Parker and his now wife Meredith, who names him Edgar and educates him to the point where he is able to obtain his High School Equivalency Diploma. The citizens of the fictitious town of Hope Falls, West Virginia fear Edgar and want him killed blaming many incidents taking place in the town on him but they correctly assume he needs animal blood to sustain his life. This is all as you might expect it to be but then in the second act of this musical, things really start to get crazy: Pan shows up with woodland creatures, Shelley sleeps with her brother/step-brother, Dr. Parker turns into a mass murderer and many of the main characters eventually end up dead.

This production of Bat Boy: The Musical, directed by Christopher Rosselli, is worth going to if for no other reason than to have the opportunity to see Philip Martinez play Bat Boy (Edgar). He is a very talented actor with a commanding stage presence and a great voice. Whether singing "Show You A Thing Or Two", "Let Me Walk Among You" or "Inside Your Heart" (a duet beautifully sung with Kelsey Gronda, who played Shelley), audience members sat up in their seats whenever he appeared on stage. His performance alone is worth the price of admission. Two musical numbers I liked which involved the townsfolk were "Another Dead Cow" and "A Joyful Noise". Skyler Rudolfsky put his heart into performing the dual role of Rick Taylor and Rev. Hightower. I was particularly impressed with the performance of Austin Koenigstein, who played both Bud and Pan. Also worthy of note are Anthony Morano and Jarrett Dichter, two talented young actors who appeared in this production and have a great future in the theater. Anthony Morano, who played Ned, has a wholesome, charismatic look about him while Jarrett Dichter, who primarily had the role of Ron Taylor, played the part as a somewhat nerdy, awkward kid and succeeded in bring that minor character to life.

I won't lie. This production has problems some of which were no doubt the result of having too little time to rehearse and there being so many actors on stage at the same time. The opening number saw some cast members singing off key and out of harmony resulting in an assault on my ears that caused me to cringe in pain. The pace of the first act was somewhat slow but things did move at a faster pace once we got to the second act. With respect to the actors in this production I have not mentioned, I personally would have made different casting decisions for a number of the roles. All in all, everyone performed well enough to carry their own weight. However, different actors may have been able to develop each role to present a more distinct personality for some of the characters.

StageLight Entertainment went all out to create an appropriate atmosphere to set the stage for Bat Boy: The Musical. The crew wore "Bite Me" t-shirts and "bat cupcakes" were sold at concessions. The program reported that "Three or four animals were harmed in the making of this production. Sorry." Speaking of the program, it contained the names of the actors and the parts they played and it had all the cast member photos on a separate page but it didn't put the two together with a short bio of each actor, which is the very least I feel every actor deserves for devoting their time to the production. A final note of warning. I was surprised to learn upon my arrival that seats were not being assigned on a first come, first serve basis and that if you want to sit where you prefer, you must reserve your seat on line and early to get the seats you want.

If you haven't seen Bat Boy: The Musical, this is a good opportunity to find out what it is all about. You can buy tickets by visiting the StageLight Entertainment website at or by calling 631-592-8563.