nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
June 19, 2011
In an unnamed office, on a rainy morning, a man arrives for work, only to find that his computer won’t turn on. After calling technical support, he starts rifling through his files and a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal classic The Great Gatsby falls out. He starts flipping through it and begins...
Wait, that’s not right. The book that actually falls out is a collection of Batman comics which contains some of the earliest stories of the fabled Dark Knight, written by, among countless others, Bill Finger and Don Cameron. Of course, the man in the office starts to read, beginning with the origin story. Soon, his confused coworkers find themselves transforming into Robin, the Joker, the Penguin, and others as the stories begin to take life before their eyes.
If you haven’t already been able to figure it out, Batz, a production of the Brick Theater’s Comic Book Theater Festival, is modeled after Elevator Repair Service’s massive hit Gatz, a six-plus-hours reading of The Great Gatsby. Batz, an astonishingly clever piece, is only 80 minutes but could easily have gone much longer without any complaints.
Credit the production’s success to its creators Josh Mertz and Erik Bowie and the fiercely committed cast (Merlyn Berg, Mel Delancey, Matt Foster, Matt Gray, Bob Laine, Dan Maccarone, Josh Mertz, Sarah Mertz, and Harrison Unger), who perform alternately serious and spoofy renditions of the text, often at the same time, while drawing attention to the standard clichés of dialogue and action in works from the '40s. Wait until you see what the actors do whenever there’s an ellipsis in the text, or how a gangster character reads a line like “See?” There are also a number of very clever staging techniques for a show on a very tight budget, including using staplers as guns, Pez dispensers to show Robin’s, aka Dick Grayson’s, parents, and a handful of allusions to latent homosexuality in the Batman-Robin relationship.
Six of the seven comics performed translate well. The one that doesn’t, which ends the piece, is called “The Joker’s Comedy of Errors,” created in 1951 and centered around a particularly large blunder, err, boner, the Joker commits. The word boner—meaning gaffe—is used in almost every sentence. It’s very funny to read—trust me, I have—yet performed, it just doesn’t work, and actors holding up New York Post headlines from the Anthony Weiner scandal makes it work even less.
Still, this is one small, forgivable misfire in an all-around enjoyable production.