Chicago Theatre Review
Fan Fiction Flatfoot
Badfic Love – Strange Bedfellows Theatre
Kyle, and his three buddies are devoted to and obsessed with searching the internet for bad fan fiction, with the goal of putting an end to it. This small, exclusive society of intellectuals meets regularly, often at the Middle Earth Cafe, to look for writers who’ve delighted in taking the work of a popular author and creating some kind of bizarre, alternative version of it. A good example of this is Seth Grahame-Smith’s retelling of Jane Austen’s signature novels, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.
Michelle, a young woman who’s written an alternative version of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, portrays Harry and menacing Hogwarts bully Draco Malfoy as gay lovers. Including cameos that feature Hermione, Ron, Professor Snape, Lord Voldemort and the deadly dementors, scenes from Michelle’s writing pop up throughout the play as entertaining interludes within the main story. Kyle, taking a break from writing his dissertation on fan fiction, secretly discovers, meets and falls in love with Michelle. While his three friends are busy seeking to destroy the internet author’s writing, which is peppered with misspelling, bad grammar and ludicrous storylines, Kyle and Michelle (who’s unaware of Kyle’s real reason for meeting her) carry on their covert love affair.
In this Chicago premiere, adapted by Adam Pasen from his own graphic novel of the same name (available for purchase in the theatre lobby), the audience, especially those unfamiliar with this kind of sleuthing, gets a crash course in all things fanfic. Director Aaron Henrickson, whose work was recently enjoyed at Naperville’s BrightSide Theatre, stages this fascinating new play with strapping originality and physical and intellectual gusto. Thanks to Paul Deziel’s barrage of projected subtitles, vocabulary from the genre that randomly appears everywhere, fan fiction novices are helped to better understand the technical jargon. Deziel also peppers the walls of Jeffrey Chaney’s blank canvas setting with graphic novel illustrations that visually take us into the world of Harry Potter. Barbara Moore’s costumes nicely say “nerdy intellectuals,” and her Harry Potter wardrobe is spot-on and imaginative.
Chris Fowler and Cristiana Barbatelli are strong as Kyle and Michelle, with Ms. Baratelli especially exciting playing her internet alter ego superhero. However, it’s Connor Konz and Jake Szczepaniak as Harry and Draco, who are the real standouts in this production. These two young actors are committed to their characters. The actors’ over-the-top, hilarious portrayals make the much-awaited Harry Potter scenes the highlight of this play. Often, editorially expressing surprise at their own dialogue and actions, Konz and Szczepaniak are especially terrific, together offering the strongest reason to see this production. Indeed, with so many other plots running amuck, this play would be more entertaining if the Harry Potter subplot was simply elevated to the main story.
Strange Bedfellows Theatre, whose current production reminds audiences that everyone has the freedom to be whomever they wish, offers a solid production of a play that depicts a world of new experiences for some, sparks interesting new ideas and discussion for others and generally provides an entertaining evening in the theatre for everyone. With a bit of tweaking and restructuring this play could become a new cult favorite; but as it now plays there are a few too many plot lines and new information bites for the average audience member to digest. The brilliant, hilarious Harry Potter play-within-a-play, however, is the icing on the cake that makes this show a scrumptious delight.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 3-May 2 by Strange Bedfellows Theatre at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available at the box, by calling 773-697-3830 or by going to www.strangebedfellowstheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.