In The Dork Knight, the acclaimed classical actor Jason O’Connell recounts his life journey and his obsession with the Batman films. “I’ve always loved Batman and I’ve always loved movies.”
As with any work rooted in a pop culture phenomenon, enjoyment of this show is dependent on an affinity for the source material.
A notable feature of this presentation is Mr. O’Connell’s talent for impressions that is demonstrated by his vocal and physical impersonations of actors’ characterizations from the films.
Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Tom Hardy and Morgan Freeman are all vividly portrayed. Some of these recreations are enacted simultaneously, conversing with each other, and some become guiding spirits to him.
O’Connell’s script is a well-structured series of confessional anecdotes interwoven with the lore of the movies. His performance is a riveting blend of stand-up comedy and grand stage acting with Shakespearean flourishes. The audience is on three sides of the very small theater. This intimate space at times feels too constrained for the unbridled emotionalism on display.
Born on Long Island into a troubled family situation, O’Connell sees Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman several times on its initial release when he was 18, and it transforms his life. He decides to become an actor and majors in theater at Hofstra University.
Talented but insecure about his stocky and imposing character actor looks, he is told that he’ll have a great career when he is forty years old. He forges ahead at odd jobs and stints at regional theaters. Playing the title of Hamlet in a Texas town is a career highpoint.
Along the way there are unsuccessful relationships with women, one is “terrible but mature.” The description of each Batman movie instigates a flood of reminiscences.
“Batman can have a happy ending” is O’Connell’s conclusion as he finds fulfillment in a stable involvement. “She’s my Catwoman and my Robin.”
Director Tony Speciale’s simple but precise staging adds an accomplished texture and a visual variety to the show.
Scenic designer Jerry Marsini provides a vintage wing chair and a small table, set with a martini glass and shaker. These few objects cleverly evoke the study of Wayne Manor.
Zach Blane’s inspired lighting design with its focused shadowy effects conjures up the appropriate imagery of the films. There is also stark brightness that enhances the personal disclosures.
Costume designer Hunter Kaczorowski clothes O’Connell in a layered, dark ensemble of jeans, a T-shirt, a buttoned shirt and a hooded jacket that wittily recall a Bat suit.
The Dork Knight is an engrossing work of therapeutic entertainment.
The Dork Knight (through January 29, 2017)
Abingdon Theatre Company
Dorothy Strelsin Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.abingdontheatre.org
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission