Unmasking ‘The Dork Knight’

Some men can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to be dorks.

Actor and comedian Jason O’Connell’s one-man show, “The Dork Knight,” explores how he got his scars through memoir, impressions, pop-culture references and, of course, the Batman films.

On Sunday, Nov. 11, O’Connell performed his show at 2 and 8 p.m. and held a workshop for  SUNY New Paltz students between the performances. The workshop was a “free-form conversation, lecture and Q&A” about creating a solo piece and how liberating “self-generated work” can be to performers, O’Connell said.

Ally Farzetta, president of Alpha Psi Omega, the National Theater Honor Society, was responsible for bringing the show to campus.

Farzetta met O’Connell this summer while working as an acting apprentice at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival where he’s been a company member for five consecutive seasons. After seeing “The Dork Knight,” she said she approached O’Connell to ask if he would want to perform the show at New Paltz.

“He did a special showing for the cast and crew of the festival…and I saw it and just thought it was phenomenal,” Farzetta said. “I was so moved and touched by it. I thought it so applicable to anyone at any age and it could be such a great performance to put on at a college.”

New Paltz is the first university O’Connell has performed the show at, but he hopes to bring it to other campuses, he said.

“The experience was overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “I can’t wait to do more, and am hoping to begin by bringing the show to LIU-CW Post and my alma mater, Hofstra University, in the near future.”

O’Connell said he had the initial idea for the show in 2005, but it was simply “a showcase” for his impersonations and comedic “musings” about the Batman films. He said the piece wasn’t transformed into a personal memoir until 2009 or 2010 after being “greatly” affected by “The Dark Knight” film and taking the suggestion of another writer.

“I began writing a monologue about my own insecurities as a man and a performer, but spoken through the voice of Heath Ledger’s Joker, and that idea of having various actors/characters from the movies ‘speak’ to me at different points in my life became the spine of the piece,” O’Connell said.

Farzetta said the show “works really well” because of its simplicity in lighting, staging and sound. She said it’s just O’Connell onstage with a stool, talking to the audience, doing impressions of Batman characters and giving his commentary.

“It’s a deeply personal show,” she said. “By the end, I was in tears. It’s very beautiful and touching, but it’s also very funny at the same time.”

“The Dork Knight” lifts the mask off O’Connell’s Batman obsession, and he said he hopes people who see the show are reminded of their own “sometimes irrationally intense feelings” for what they care about.

“I’d like people to come away from the show embracing their own personal obsessions and seeing that those obsessions can be inspirations as well as diversions,” he said. “There’s a reason we love the things we love and, for better or worse, they inform the lives we lead and the work we create in the world.”

O’Connell said he was inspired by a one-man show of the Star Wars Trilogy, and while it contained impressions, it lacked the personal element that he was aiming for.

“I always thought the show was about Batman, but it’s actually much more about me, and to have that mean something to people — even to just one person —  is more than I ever dreamed of,” he said.