The Debate Society in 'Blood Play' at WTF: The games people play


WILLIAMSTOWN -- The setting for "Blood Play," an unsettling, self-absorbed theater piece created and performed by Brooklyn-based The Debate Society as the season-ending production at Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Nikos Stage is the finished basement of a ranch-style house in Skokie belonging to Morty (Michael Cyril Creighton), who runs a trophy shop; his wife, Bev (Hannah Bos), and their son, Ira (Emma Galvin).

It is the early 1950s. The knotty pine basement is furnished with a new sofa and coffee table and a fully stocked bar -- the domain of Morty, who delights in making unconventional cocktails (the recipes for which are included in the printed program).

Bev is nervously anticipating a luncheon she is hosting the next day for several of the temple sisterhood in the hope she and Morty, recent transplants from Chicago’s southside, will be easily accepted in their new Jewish congregation.

Over the course of the evening, Morty and Bev are visited by a tall gangly, socially awkward Gentile photographer named Jeep (Paul Tureen), and their new friends, Sam (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey) and his wife, Gail (Burgit Huppuch), who are on their way to a costume function at their temple.

The evening devolves into a series of parlor games, a series of can-you-top-this affairs that, fueled by never-ending rounds of freshly made cocktail concoctions, bring out Gail’s most competitive instincts. And while they play, Ira, who is camping out in a tent in the backyard, wrestles with personal demons.

Beneath all the social calmraderie there are hints of issues -- an accident involving Sam and Jeep, tension between Sam and Gail, the overly acquiescent Bev eyeing blood blotting the crotch area of Ira’s pants, anti-Semitism in a community that was, at that time, virgin territory for Jews -- that are hinted at but never discussed.

In David Lynch "Blue Vevet" fashion, there is rot beneath the tidy residential landscape of this middle-class community. British playwright Alan Ayckbourn works this territory so much more slyly

The play’s title is drawn from the Medieval superstition that Jewish men menstruated and would eat Christian babies and then drink their blood in rituals.

Misunderstanding and fear run through the unspoken text of "Blood Play." Ira is seen through the fabric of his tent in silhouette, against fiery orange light as a demonic lizardlike creature. He emerges from his tent as an innocent looking youth wearing an elaborate Indian headdress. And yet the innocence of that look, in turns, belies a mind -- heard in voiceover narration -- that is deeply troubled and unstable.

Of course, none of this could be in play in this enigmatic, unwelcoming and pretentious, almost anti-theater theater piece.

There is nothing emotionally or intellectually involving here. The playing style is halting, unsteady and unfolds like a series of jokes and references only the actors understand.

At best, this intermissionless, 88-minute piece plays like an offbeat "Saturday Night Live" sketch gone seriously offtrack.


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