Like a small projectile lodged into a skull, the memories of a miserable youth tend to stick with you. You carry the torment around, wishing you could shed it, but also oddly comfortable that it’s there, all the time, reminding you of what you lived through and theoretically made you stronger.
Getting it out, sharing it, has to help. That simply must explain Southwest Ohio Society of Badasses, the Fringe 2008 offering from This Ain’t Real Theatre Company. Written and directed by Miami University theater professor William Doan, Badasses is as much catharsis as performance. It’s a venting: loud, crass and emotional. It needs to be all of that and more to get those deep-seated feelings out in the open.
But while it’s daring and personal, it’s also not the most polished piece of theater (even Fringe theater) available right now. It tries really hard, but you can also see it trying really hard, and that takes away from its effectiveness.
Badasses centers around the early life of Bud (played by Justin Baldwin) and his tumultuous, abusive relationship with his stepfather, a man so strict he would literally lash out at Bud for every rock and stick his lawnmower would hit in the yard. The unseen character — appropriately named Dick — is nothing short of despicable; he’s like a Johnny Cash song character without the cowboy charm. At the brink of adolescence, Bud is so scared of the old man that we’re told he develops blisters in his mouth.
And that’s pretty much the show. We watch Bud grow older, but the hatred stays the same. The relationship and dynamic never really arc. Not to minimize or downplay the seriousness of what we’re examining: abuse, especially by a parental figure, is awful stuff. But as a plot for this particular show, it just never quite goes anywhere.
Not that the creators don’t try to keep it interesting. I actually liked how the show made fun of theatrical devices. It’s pretty self-aware. So much so that there is an actor onstage (Alex Homer) who literally just sits behind a microphone and announces when flashbacks are occurring and who uses reverb to signify a particularly foreboding offstage voice.
Badasses is at its best when it’s loose and funny, when Bud can sit back and tell those great growing-up stories that we all have. His sometimes involve freak BB gun accidents.
At those times, the show lives up to its name. But when it tries too hard to hit home, it comes off too “after school special” — and that’s not badass at all.
— Rodger Pille