Written and Performed by Jason O’Connell; Directed by Tony Speciale
Produced by Abingdon Theatre Company
Off Broadway, Solo Show
Ran through 1.29.17
Dorothy Streslin Theatre, 312 West 36th Street
by Sarah Weber on 1.29.17
Jason O'Connell in The Dork Knight. Photo by Ben Strothmann.
BOTTOM LINE: One man details how the Batman franchise has influenced everything from his career goals to his love life, for better or worse.
If you love all things comic books and super heroes, but your show date doesn’t, I guarantee this performance will make both of you lose yourselves in laughter. Jason O’Connell’s solo show blends down-to-earth storytelling with his lifelong obsession over Batman in such a way that he can joke with his fellow nerds without making anyone feel excluded from getting the punch line. Complete with real life stories, impersonations, and self-deprecating humor, The Dork Knight is guaranteed to entertain regardless of how little you know about a certain comic book character who fights crime in a spandex bat suit.
In the intimate Dorothy Streslin Theatre, our journey through O’Connell’s story is up-close and personal. You’re a mere few feet away from the stage when suddenly O’Connell stands in a bright spotlight, opening the show with his first of many uncanny Michael Keaton impressions. We learn that although he was always a fan, O’Connell’s life-long obsession for our favorite billionaire bat hero was set in stone when Batman first opened in theaters. He continues the story with each subsequent Batman movie serving as the start and end to each chapter. In addition to life lessons he acquires more impersonations along the way: Danny DeVito’s Penguin, an especially hilarious depiction of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, Christian Bale’s Batman, and so on. The most persistent of these is Jack Nicholson’s Joker, who sporadically torments O’Connell, feeding his insecurities, resentments, and fears.
In addition to his career, each movie signals a new era in O’Connell’s love life. With each chapter comes with its own relationship status, ranging from hopelessly in love to emphatically single. The women in his life come with their own comic book characters—Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, Poison Ivy, etc. And O’Connell slowly learns that the key to a successful relationship lies within his ability to be honest with himself. Though he admits that he didn’t treat a couple of these women as well as he should have, I find it interesting that the extent of their personalities here relies on the singular character he labels them.
O’Connell’s combination of storytelling with his personal relationship to iconic Batman characters is both touching and wildly funny. The moments he lets his geekiness run wild are especially satisfying. Early in the show he dives into commentary about what makes Batman a great superhero, describing Bruce Wayne as a people’s hero—a super hero devoid of super powers, yet one who can save Gotham time and time again regardless of the odds—but O’Connell then clarifies, “Batman could be anyone with one billion dollars.”
Though many of his jokes land perfectly, there are several key moments that left me more bewildered than amused. When discussing his love live, O’Connell at one point makes the stale, one-sided observation that, once upon a time, female nerds were a rarity, and then we suddenly materialized and now we’re everywhere. The joke garnered laughs, but speaking as a female nerd, who is all too aware of how long we remained invisible to the public eye, I was disappointed.
All in all, The Dork Knight is a hilarious and down-to-earth exploration of how the Batman franchise helped Jason O’Connell grow up and grow into himself. Whether or not Batman’s your superhero of choice, any person with a life-long passion for a character or story will relate to O’Connell’s journey.
(The Dork Knight played at the Dorothy Streslin Theatre, 312 West 36 Street, through January 29, 2017. Tickets were $27 and were available at abingtontheatre.org or by calling 212.352.3101)
The Dork Knight is written and performed by Jason O’Connell. Directed by Tony Speciale. Scenic Design by Jerry Marsini. Lighting Design by Zach Blane. Costume Design by Hunter Kaczorowski. Production Stage Manager is Michelle Viteri.