Let‘s Spend the Night Together

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film, Theater.


Blood Play marks an auspicious Williamstown bow for Debate Society

By Doug Strassler

Courtesy WTF Publicity

Courtesy WTF Publicity

You can’t blame Bev (Hannah Bos) and Morty (Michael Cyril Creighton), newly arrived to Skokie, Illinois, for wanting to make a good first impression. This 1950s couple has just moved into the Chicago suburb with their awkward son, Ira (Emma Galvin), in tow, and hope to lay down roots as pillars of their community in the Debate Society’s Blood Play. And every forced, artless exchange between the couple and the neighbors who enter their house during one odd, ominous evening only further proves just how polished and organic director Oliver Butler’s production is, as this company makes a most decidedly terrific first impression on the Nikos Stage in their Williamstown debut run.

Not quite kitsch, not exactly a mystery, and not quite allegory, Blood certainly draws on all of the above. Those familiar with previous Debate Society (a collective that includes Bos, Butler, and actor Paul Thureen) works like Buddy Cop 2, Cape Disappointment, and The Eaten Heart, know that the Brooklyn-bred group’s plays defy categorization, resembling genre works only to subvert expectations and head in askew storytelling directions, often without trading closure for food for thought.

So fully realized is Blood’s sense of setting that in addition to designer Laura Jellinek’s masterful set, including a realistic paneled basement with a bar, a moving platform, and branches that burst through pipes (oh what an unfortunate blow to Bev and Morty as she readies for a ladies’ lunch! How could it have happened?), Butler also harnesses just the right atmosphere, aided considerably by a cast that flirts with perfection throughout. As characters keep unexpectedly shuffling into the household – first Thureen’s Jimmy Stewart-esque photographer Jeep, having gotten into a minor car accident with Sam (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey), then, later Gail (Birgit Huppuch), Sam’s impatient wife, dressed as the rear half of a cow costume she and Sam planned to wear for a party she ends up forsaking for Bev and Morty’s serendipitous one (Sydney Maresca’s period costumes are both hilariously unflattering and authentic) – some personalities mesh the best with others. Pay attention to who misreads the statements of another, who constantly watches who, who seeks unending approval, and just who treats others more harshly than he or she should.

As its title might suggest, Blood progresses in a foreboding, if ambiguous direction as the Jewish Bev and Morty and Sam and Gail carouse with Jeep (the Semitic population of Skokie didn’t grow until the 1960s); references to offstage cruelty and ostracism pepper the action and heighten paranoia. While Morty fixes drinks and Bev suggests parlor games, Ira’s interstitial monologues add thematic heft to the evening (though more heard than seen, Galvin proves essential), with Ben Truppin-Brown and M.L. Dogg’s harrowing sound work gradually raising its spook factor. I do wish the Ira story had been threaded into the action a bit more seamlessly – hints at what he is up to tend to feel more clipped than subtle.

Butler’s energetic ensemble refuses to let this material feel too aloof, however. The vital Bos and Creighton tip their characters’ overreaching hands throughout, signaling their outsider status without ever declaring it. Equally potent are Smith-Dorsey and a scabrous, sour-faced Huppuch, who have abandoned their neighbors’ social pretenses. Thureen adds expert observation into this look at outsider status, making Jeep a lone wolf who reacts to stimuli without finding it particularly stimulating. But the opposite is true for this challenging, nuanced show. You won’t soon forget Blood Play – nor the Debate Society.

Further information can be found at http://www.wtfestival.org/2013/blood

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