Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: Love, Loss, and Batman

By Michael Block 

Jason O’Connell has one true love. Batman. As the singular constant in his life, O’Connell tells the story of his life as it paralleled the Batman movie franchise. From Keaton to Affleck, The Dork Knight chronicles his highs and lows using the movie series as benchmarks.
Kicking off the new year, Abington Theatre Company production is the story of an average guy's hero journey through love, loss, and Batman. As a man who lives and breathes Batman, Jason O’Connell didn't define himself by the bat but he sure played a role in his life. He shares a narrative of finding solace in a fictional character when loves came and went, a father disappeared as a new father figure took on the role, and the acting gigs just weren't coming. The Dork Knight pays homage to the DC comic character while showcasing O’Connell's intimate storytelling skills and his prowess for impeccable characterizations. Know him or not, O’Connell opened his heart and let the audience into his world without ever begging for emotion. O’Connell's approach to storytelling is reminiscent of a stand up comedian, something he’s no stranger to. This set is just missing the microphone and stand. Though there may be a stretch or two in the parallels, he keeps his personal journey consistent. Like a true superhero, O’Connell introduces a conflict to overcome through the adversary of the villain within. Keeping the Batman lore accessible for the casual fans provided O’Connell to tell his story without having to play teacher. And even if you have a loyalty to Marvel Comics over DC Comics, it’s the geek within that you fell in love with. Between his strong writing style and his hypnotizing charisma, O’Connell found a way to stage his greatest assets. O’Connell’s impressions are comedy gold. Whether you’ve seen the movie franchise or not, his take on Michael Keaton’s Batman, Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Jim Carrey’s Riddler, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze brought the house down. As the night moved along, the anticipation of the impressions to come kept the crowd on edge.
photo Ben Strothmann
Director Tony Speciale had great trust in Jason O’Connell and his performance. So much so that he allowed O’Connell to virtually stay put. With a three-quarter thrust configuration, if you weren’t sitting in the center section, you likely didn’t receive the full show. Not to say the sides missed out, it never quite felt inclusive. Speciale took O’Connell’s story and hit the notes of comedy and tragedy. By keeping O’Connell standing for the majority of the piece, the moments Speciale asked him to sit, you knew there was much weight about to come. The scenic design by Jerry Marsini featured a stunning black chair you’d expect straight out of the Batcave. The lighting design by Zach Blane explored colors when O’Connell broke into his characters. Each color and look was reminiscent of a certain character. Though yellow is not the most pleasant color on stage, including it in the preshow look was the right choice. Costume designer Hunter Kaczorowski dressed O’Connell is layers. Layers upon layers. For a piece like this, the only logical reason to put the solo artist in a non-stop piece in layers is there would be some reveal. Perhaps a Batman t-shirt. This was not the case. And it was a gigantic missed opportunity. Even if O’Connell didn’t quite move about the stage, his attire felt cumbersome.
The Dork Knight is one of those rare solo plays that has the power to engage an audience from start to finish. It won’t change the word but Jason O’Connell’s story reminds you to never give up on your dreams and if you love something so much, it doesn’t matter what others think about it.