Co-Creator Brings Batman’s Creator to Life

Co-CreatorPlaywright Lenny Schwartz continues to make a name for himself authoring and directing his unique brand of plays for Daydream Theatre. Schwartz’s work is offbeat, yet sentimental and, especially in the last few years, biographical. We’ve seen explorations of Buster Keaton, Lucille Ball and Charles Schulz, but Daydream’s latest offering (and the first new production in their West Warwick-based Arctic Playhouse) concerns a figure that most people outside of a ComiCon have never heard of before. Bill Finger, who most Batman enthusiasts consider to be the true father of the Caped Crusader, lived his life in the shadow of Bob Kane, who, as Schwartz’s play Co-Creator tells us, merely inked an idea that Finger actually brought to life.

As far as Schwartz’s bio-plays go, Co-Creator is wacky and sometimes touching, but not quite up to the standards set by the superior Buster Keaton: Fade to Black or the delightfully sweet The Man Who Saw Snoopy. This latest effort is obviously a labor of love for author and cast alike, and Co-Creator has been packed with the usual adoring audiences, but the formula that Schwartz has been riding since Keaton is starting to wear at the seams just a little bit. Protagonist addresses audience, several figures from protagonist’s past parade through and deliver exposition (and in many cases become romantically involved), some fun meta-awareness of the convention is sprinkled throughout and the protagonist comes to some bittersweet life revelations and eventually expires. This is how life works for pretty much everyone, but we like to see how it plays out for famous people and Daydream has had a corner on the market for the format for a few years now. However, as fascinating as Bill Finger’s story is (especially for comic fans in general and Batman enthusiasts in particular), it is hard to like this protagonist very much even though it is clear he was done an injustice by Bob Kane and DC comics who refused to acknowledge Finger’s role in the history of this still thriving institution. Schwartz does an excellent job of camping things up (even more than usual) by writing in a style reminiscent of comic book dialogue with some knowing winks to the tone of the 1960s Batman TV series thrown in for good measure. Bob Kane is portrayed as nothing less than a super villain, an arch-nemesis to Finger’s noble, silent hero. The problem is that Finger comes off as anything but heroic, even admitting that Batman was written so he could have his creation do things that the author could never achieve.

Perhaps it is ok to see Finger as a flawed creature, making his posthumous fame and credibility all the more touching, but as portrayed in Co-Creator, Finger is a bit of a whiny homophobe who can’t seem to dig out of the hole he’s allowed himself to fall into. Chris Ferreira plays Finger as best he can (and has the lion’s share of the work, never leaving the stage), but we never manage to root for him the way we rooted for Brad Kirton’s similarly drawn Charles Schulz in The Man Who Saw Snoopy. Kirton returns to play the evil Bob Kane in Co-Creator and winds up stealing our focus as we wonder what douchebaggery Kane will deliver next. Kirton is also credited with the Scenic Design for this show and some of the best moments are delivered from a clever revolving door/bar from which Kane’s ultimate revelation as super villain, complete with Batphone, arrives. Said bar also features one of the play’s minor characters, the Bartender, played with perfectly understated sarcasm by Candace Sampson. Mary Luzitano is adorable as Portia Finger, one of many women who inexplicably throw themselves at Finger, and several folks come and go who all serve to pile on Finger’s perceived burdens. One of Daydream’s strengths is that Schwartz rarely doubles cast members, finding enough actors to play even the tiniest of roles.

Co-Creator, despite its flaws, is still fun and often funny, but lacking in the depth that Schwartz’s best can have. Perhaps this is just who Bill Finger was and Daydream is merely presenting an opportunity (a much publicized opportunity in comic circles, by the way – members of the Finger family have even endorsed the effort) for us to learn about the injustice done to the Man Who Saw The Bat. As Schwartz writes, “justice only exists in the comic books” and he has created one just for Bill Finger in order to finally put the words into the mouth of the man who never had the courage to say them: “You’re an asshole – and I’m Batman.”

The Arctic Playhouse and DayDream Theatre present, Co-Creator, a play written and directed by Lenny Schwartz, through April 18. All performances are at The Arctic Playhouse, 117 Washington St, West Warwick. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at smarttix.com, daydreamtheatre.net or thearcticplayhouse.com.

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