Photo courtesy GTC/Eric JohansonBlake...daMusical!is a sketchy, ragged, meandering mess of a play about actor Robert Blake and his torturous relationship with Bonnie Lee Bakley, the woman a jury of his peers decided he didn't kill, or order killed, four years ago.
So does that mean you shouldn't see the show this weekend in Garden Grove? Hell, no. Because it's also scandalously funny, jaw-droppingly irreverent, and an opportunity to watch what might turn out to be a cult theater classic.
Human-sized, gun-wielding cockatoos; guys in mullets; waiters who just won't die; a set that falls apart when someone hiccups; crude, lewd insults; and songs about everything from dyslexia and child abuse to trailer park trash and the cult of celebrity are enough to keep you entertained and engaged even in those longish stretches when no one seems to know what the hell they're supposed to be doing onstage.
This musical is the creation of Henry Phillips, whom we don't know, and Rick Batalla, whom we do. Batalla is a ferociously talented Los Angeles-based actor local audiences know best as the Latin-looking dude in Troubadour Theater Company spoofs like AMidsummerSaturdayNight'sFeverDreamand 12thDogNight. He plays Blake, filled with the kind of relentless comic energy and scene-stealing mugging that only really charismatic performers have any chance of getting away with.
But where Batalla as actor, singer and songwriter rocks, his book (that is, his story) needs to be bitch-slapped. The entire white trash star-fucking fairy godmother subplot is terribly, terribly unfortunate, and why write and star in a play about Robert Blake that so woefully undercooks its own climactic moment: the shooting of his wife?
The play's theme—and I'm being generous in calling it that—seems to be that when fucked-up people meet, screw, fall in love and then start hating each other, bad things happen. Sometimes they wind up taking a bullet in the side of the head. Whatever the case, we don't need the story of Robert Blake and his disastrous life to tell us that; what we do need are the complex dynamics of the particular madness this bizarre couple cooked up together, and Batalla's story doesn't come close to that.
It's clear Batalla is drawn to this story, and it's a rich one, filled with neurosis, passion, lies and hatred. It also centers on two wretchedly fascinating pools of pond scum: Bakley, a gold-digging star fucker who was married at least nine times before Blake; and Blake, who celebrated his acquittal in March by holding a profanity-laden press conference. I remember seeing Blake on a late-night TV talk show years ago. He was one of the most pained, intensely troubled and scarily shrewd people I've ever seen or heard. Maybe it had something to do with being the guy who replaced Porky in Our Gang, or maybe he's just one fucked-up hombre, but it was a remarkably chilling performance made even more haunting by the fact that he wasn't acting. What this play needs is more of that Blake, a little less Fred the Cockatoo (although the guy playing him, Vince Cefal, is hilarious) and a whole lot less white trash star-fucking fairy godmother (although the actress playing her, Kate Danley, is talented). With some serious rewrites, Batalla and Phillips could elevate Blake...daMusical!from what it is now—a majorly flawed if funny and provocative play, one gifted with a great comic lead—to something closer to warped brilliance.
BLAKE . . . DA MUSICAL! AT GROVE THEATER CENTER, GEN THEATER, 12852 MAIN ST., GARDEN GROVE, (714) 741-9555. SAT.-SUN., 8 P.M. $20; ALSO AT GTC BURBANK, 1111-B W. OLIVE AVE., BURBANK, (818) 288-3855. OPENS AUG. 6. SAT.-SUN., 8 P.M. THROUGH AUG. 28. $15.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Orange County art and theater scene.