By Leigh Austin
When a shirtless Harry Potter and a pantless Draco Malfoy… “compare broomsticks,” shall I say, in the opening scene of Badfic Love, the dynamic, hilariously over the top world of Harry Potter fanfiction casts a purposefully painful spell (in both grammatically incorrect dialogue and absurd plot twists) over its audience.And, initially, its spell is pretty magical. The opening sequence, complete with sudden and inexplicable sexual attraction between former enemies, a ridiculously wigged and homophobic Professor Snape, and the random appearance of a “Mary Sue” (which the play later explains as “a character inserted into fanfic as a stand-in for the author herself who is often unrealistically idolized and/or desired by all the central characters), playfully presents all the conventions of ‘badfic’ one could imagine or want. Yet, while this and the other sequences within the badfic world prove delightfully terrible, the plot within the ‘real’ or ‘material’ world was riddled with overly complicated subplots and the ‘Return of the King plague’ (also known as “the tendency to present five too many endings to the story).
The material world plot centers on a graduate student, Kyle, who has been struggling to complete his dissertation and, thus, to earn finally his PhD, while he simultaneously acts as the “tracker” for a fanfiction police club known as the FIC. When Kyle stumbles upon a legendary piece of badfic, he decides to write a parody for his dissertation. Yet, when he meets with the the author, Michelle, he unexpectedly finds himself falling for her. Suddenly, he is torn between finishing what would be an emotionally destructive dissertation (for Michelle) and pretending to like her badfic just to be with her. His decision is further complicated by repeated demands from his ex-girlfriend and president of the FIC, Cynthia, to do what the FIC does best in destroying Michelle’s badfic reputation.
Such a lengthy plot summary is a testament to just how overly complicated the story is; though the badfic world is one characterized by its over-the-top absurdity, the ‘material’ world never quite decides if it wants to be a serious, reflective piece on the very nature of writing and creativity (which has my vote) or an equally ridiculous world filled with villains and wholly unrealistic dissertation deadlines (Kyle’s ability to churn out and defend his dissertation in a two month span is itself too absurd to be included in the ‘real world’).
Unfortunately, this production, with a solid cast (including standout performer Connor Konz, whose portrayal of Harry Potter is one that is both a spot-on impression and, eventually, an emotionally resonant depiction of what might happen to a character upended) and an imaginative set, could truly be fantastic if the script was cleaned up a bit. The material to make the show exceptional is there; the characters are, for the most part, extremely well-written, and the number of nerdy references to Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. wittily pays homage to the medium of fanfiction and its creators. What this play needs is a reworking of its second act and a firm grasp on what it ultimately wants to say.
Badfic Love runs through May 4th at The Den Theatre. More information:
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