The Debate Society, a theater company based in Bushwick, has been getting a lot of positive press lately, and on the opening night of their newest offering Blood Play (through Oct 27) the audience was filled with their friends and supporters. This is a popular company, so popular that they’ve sold out their run of Blood Play, and there were some prospective audience members willing to wait in a standby line in the cramped space of The Bushwick Starr theater just for a chance to get in. A lot of the audience was tossing back cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and, yes, a few of the men wore porkpie hats; if they weren’t hipsters, they certainly knew how to dress the part. The drinking, actually, was fitting for this particular play, since it concerns two suburban 1950s couples in Skokie, Illinois, putting away a succession of truly atrocious-looking cocktails concocted by the nervous Morty (Michael Cyril Creighton), whose wife Bev (Hannah Bos) is trying to get in good with social queen bee Gail (Birgit Huppuch), a finicky lady who often seems embarrassed by her blunt husband Sam (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey). Jeep (Paul Thureen), a distant portrait photographer, is the group's odd man out.
Thureen and Bos are Blood Play's co-writers, and they're responsible for its most striking performances, too. Bos brings an unusual amount of vulnerability to Bev’s social anxiety, and Thureen begins the play strongly, in a key of absentminded near-menace. But as these people booze away, the actors don’t show us any of the effects of the alcohol they are drinking—a glaring fault, as they all seem to be drinking such lethal mixed drinks. More damagingly, most of Blood Play has these characters playing dopey party games, one after another, and nothing is revealed during these games, so that it finally feels like the audience is trapped in a 1950s rec room, like a child unable to participate in all the strenuous horsing around, which might be the intent. The games involve pins and potatoes and lots of other things, and they become increasingly irritating. But to what end?
It’s not that Blood Play is inaccurate or contemptuous when it comes to 1950s suburban culture. Yes, lots of games were played in basements to pass the time, but the games here seem to be leading to some point of clarification that never comes. The last part of the play is given over to Ira (Ronete Levenson), Morty and Bev's outcast son, who is camping in his backyard. Thureen and Bos have given Ira several long, opaque speeches about his private world, and when Jeep goes out to talk to Ira as a fellow outcast, the play gets even muddier. The enthusiasm for The Debate Society as a company is heartening to see, and clearly there is a lot of talent and promise here. But, unfortunately, Blood Play is neither bloody nor much of a play.
Photo Sue Kessler