WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Can a cracked egg that runs red be an omen? A root in a pipe a portent of death?
In life, we might ignore such ominous warnings, or they may ring clear late at night, in a dark bedroom when sleep won’t come.
In theater, such signs can work as a tool to entertain, but sometimes they truly scare — especially when the surroundings seem so familiar.
Williamstown Theater Festival, in a move that recalls its experimental history (The Second Company, The Other Stage, The Ex are a few of its past incarnations), has hauled in the wildly successful and innovative theater company The Debate Society to do the heavy lifting; “Blood Play” is the result.
The Brooklyn-based Debate Society, an artistic triptych of actor/writers Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen and developer/director Oliver Butler, has received well-deserved praise for its plays of social comment with a twist. “Blood Play” infuses the proceedings with an energy that shocks in a way that lingers long after the curtain drops.
As they place the final touches on a meticulously planned social event for the following day, Bev (Bos) and Morty (Michael Cyril Creighton) hold an impromptu cocktail soiree in their newly refi nished basement, but something lurks in the septic system.
The party guests — door-to-door photographer Jeep (Thureen) and next-door neighbors Gail and Sam (Birgit Huppuch and Hanlon Smith-Dorsey) — play silly games and drink frilly drinks, burying their own discomforts and frightening realities and filling the air with tales of suburban trivialities. Ah, but underneath.
Bos and Creighton stray dangerously close to burlesque with their characters’ quest for suburban perfection. But in the small moments, they find the right pinches to keep it real.
The tightly wound Gail is perfectly loosened with Huppuch’s quiet attack. The distant approach, and above-it-all attitude is appropriately appalling and honest, providing a perfect rationale for a quick demolition of the neighborhood.
Smith-Dorsey, as the good neighbor Sam, makes us aware why he would rather stay in his neighbor’s basement than wander out to a social event with his wife.
But it’s Thureen’s socially awkward Jeep who remains the enigma who steals focus. Blinking and bumbling in a world he doesn’t fully understand, he peers in and speaks only when spoken to, participating because it’s polite but not really sure why. It is a perfect performance of a man trapped in an awkward and foreign world.
GREAT LOOK AND SOUND
The design elements are excellent. Most impressive is Laura Jellineck’s claustrophobic basement rumpus room. Decked out with the ubiquitous knotty-pine suburban kitsch of the period, the room simply reeks of the rising dampness.
But when the show bends sinister and the action moves to the backyard, Jellineck’s set morphs into its primal roots, pulsing with fear.
The set is completed with Ben Thruppin-Brown and M.L. Dogg’s creepy and goose-bump evoking sound design and Mike Riggs’ perfect shadowed lighting.
This play is not for everyone — the humor is scary, like being trapped in a fun house after hours during a full moon. For those longing for an adventure and a lively debate after the show, grab a ticket.