Badfic Love Review - A Creative Tale of Internet Culture and Real-life Conclusions

This Monday I ended up at The Den Theatre in far-out Wicker Park to see Badfic Love, a show with a premise so wonderfully bizarre and tied to Harry Potter that I had to see it. Badfic Love was performed by Strange Bedfellows Theatre, a group known for its experimental productions.


Before I get into the show, let me tell you about The Den Theatre. If you’ve never been to this place before, you could easily miss it. With only a small indication of its presence, The Den Theatre is an upstairs mecca for great coffee tables. Seriously, there’s a “coffee haven” there, along with a couple small theatres that hold some great creative projects and players.


When I first walked into the theatre, I thought there weren’t any open seats. The itty-bitty room was packed. I was seated in the front row, which meant that in a theatre of this size, I was basically on stage, in the spotlight. It’s not my favorite way to see a play, but I started laughing my ass off almost right away and forgave this proximity immediately.


The premise of the show is straight out of Nerdom. A young man, Kyle (Chris Fowler), who is a deep procrastinator and Staples employee, scours the Internet searching for terrible fanfiction as part of a group that considers themselves the protectors of good fanfiction and good writing. He finds the source of “some epic badfic” written by a girl named Michelle (Cristiana Barbatelli). This writer interjects herself into her erotic, offbeat and poorly put together Harry Potter fanfic, often casting herself as a heroic character to save the gang from danger.


The show started with Michelle’s narration, as Kyle read it online. Fictional characters Harry Potter (Connor Konz) and Draco Malfoy (Jake Szczepaniak) started as mortal enemies, wand fighting and shouting on stage before Draco lost his trousers and yelled to Harry, “You vaporized my pants.” Michelle’s fanatic story spiraled into a full-on gay relationship between Draco and Harry. The play relied on this hilarious dichotomy of the fictitious lives of queer Potter boys and Kyle’s quest to simultaneously complete his graduate school dissertation by eradicating Michelle’s bad writing and poor exposition from the Internet. Things get complicated when he actually decides to meet Michelle.


Kyle takes his role with his internet group very seriously, in part because his ex-girlfriend, the fierce Cynthia (Katie Hunter), is the leader. The group is ruthless when it comes to online forums and protecting the reputation and integrity of fanfiction. The problem is they seem to end up doing more harm than good in their quest, forgetting they once started out to make fanfic better, not merely to destroy the bad. Michelle's fictional writing becomes so entangled in her relationship to Kyle, the fate of Harry and Draco are also at stake as Michelle unravels the truth. 


There were some amazing tropes touched on in the story, and nearly everything was so relatable to the audience. For instance, Cynthia came by Kyle’s apartment to ensure he was still working on the Michelle badfic case and asked his roommate Jared (Jovan King) where Kyle was – “Is he off on some LARPing binge?” Jared ends up sharing his love for old-school video games with Cynthia. When he blew into a game cartridge before placing it into the gaming system, the audience just about lost their shit. However, the joke spiraled further until only one guy in the back of the theatre laughed when some obscure Final Fantasy VI level was mentioned.


During the second act, we reached the heart of the play. It almost seemed like this message was beaten over the audience, but it still brought forth more meaning and depth than I originally thought possible for this story. It was poignant and made the viewer understand why people flock to the Internet and fanfiction in the first place. “When all you have is a sliver of the world to hug, it makes sense to guard it fanatically.”

Written by Adam Pasen, Badfic Love is a creative, original success. It also doesn’t hurt to have a harmlessly gay Draco Malfoy to convince the audience this show is f-ing funny. 


One of the coolest things about this production was that the script was adapted into a comic book - a real, satisfyingly creative and colorful comic book. It’s not easy to create a narrative that can be adapted into more than one medium so easily. But the imaginative storyline and its connection to something so niche, so culturally nerdy and provocative is fine.


I won’t tell you how this play ends, but I will say that after more than two hours, the players will surprise you. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this show will be fun for you, but don’t expect to use your Potterdom expertise. This is Michelle and Kyle’s story. Along the way, there were a few standouts in this entertaining production. The female actors – Katie Hunter and Cristina Barbatelli - shined brightly through their roles, being both laugh-out-loud hilarious and, later, very serious.


The turns in these characters show how people can change from the influences around them, whether that’s a roommate, a new love or an obsession with Internet culture. People can dig themselves into a hole: a lengthy graduate program filled with distractions or a pointless mission to demean self-expression. No matter how poor someone might find that self-expression to be, it’s important. 


Badfic Love runs at The Den Theatre April 3 – May 9 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. Before every show, a live Harry Potter-inspired "Wizard Rock" band plays at 7 p.m. You can check out The Den Theatre's website for more information about showtimes and tickets.

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