You don’t so much follow a play by the Debate Society as let it lead you on a dislocating ramble from whimsical oddness into darkness and dread. At least, that’s the journey I’ve taken through The Eaten Heart (2007), Cape Disappointment (2008) and Buddy Cop 2 (2010). A descent into fear may not sound like a fun night at the theater, but the company’s distancing, formal severity is usually accompanied by plenty of goofy, humanizing warmth.
For most of Blood Play, scripted by actor-writers Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, and staged by Oliver Butler, a group of Chicago-area suburbanites in the ’50s hang out in a pine-panelled basement rec room, getting tanked on silly cocktails and playing even sillier party games. Homeowners Morty and Bev (Michael Cyril Creighton and Bos) welcome door-to-door photographer Jeep (Thureen, acting like an Aspergery Jimmy Stewart) and neighbors Sam and Gail (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey and Birgit Huppuch) for an impromptu fete. All the while, Morty and Bev’s son, Ira (Ronete Levenson), camps out in the yard, his lonely tent visible through a window. Lurking at the periphery of this retro Americana are grotesque details: roots are growing in the water pipes; eggs contain bloody chick fetuses; and Ira is recovering from a nasty (and possibly sexual) bullying incident.
Blood Play may be the least oblique of the Debate Society’s shows, frequently funny and unfolding in two interlocked parts. From its first moments—when the sound of happy campers’ warbling fireside songs erupt into screams—you know that something awful is happening not far away. Children in danger is a recurrent theme, one that gives these worlds a vibe of innocence inseparable from sadness. By keeping the audience partly ignorant and capturing the weirdness of adult behavior, they make us see life as kids again—with all the joy and dire vulnerability that entails.—David Cote
Buy tickets to Blood Play at the Bushwick Starr's website.
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