Writer-director Michael Phillip Edwards drew inspiration for his spooky comedy Blood from a Jamaican storyteller he knew in childhood, a man named Parsons, whose wild tales mixed moral imperative, ominous foreboding and pitch-black humor.
Blood, the title character, is a terrifying ten foot tall succubus, who attacks an unhappily married couple and demands they lay their most lurid sexual fantasies before her — or face certain death.
Once passionately in lust, He (Phrederic Semaj) and She (Maria Tomas) wed spontaneously and rashly, the ceremony officiated by a voodoo priestess whose idea of a good joke was to bond the pair forever to this insatiable demon.
Alas, the couple’s sex life is now stalled at ground zero, so their efforts to comply with the creature’s thunderous command at first seem frenzied and futile.
Eventually “He” rises to the challenge with a raw and troubling image: As a black schoolboy, he’s tied to a chair, while his sexy white teacher taunts him provocatively about his secret desires. The woman's vicious racism, her malicious intent to humiliate a person of color, are crystal clear.
Later “She” comes up with description of a blazing-hot carnal coupling, with herself at its center. This fantasy takes him aback; she’d been shutting him out for years, countering his pleas for sex with ridicule and rejection.
Rhythmic and compelling, Blood starts out as the story of a man and woman’s relationship gone awry, then shifts to a kind of carnivalesque freakshow whose main purpose is to entertain. There’s a ripple of a Faustian bargain beneath it all, the suggestion that those who demand too much will pay a price.
Tasked with vocalizing the ogress who threatens them, as well as portraying her frightened victims, the two performers work hard, conjuring a spine-tingling specter with only their vocal cords. Kudos for that.
The play’s most dramatic moment is surely Semaj’s depiction of a bound and sexually harassed black child. Almost painful to watch, it was for me the highlight of the play. Elsewhere, the performer is solid as a sophisticated but sexually frustrated man trying desperately to repair his marriage.
The production’s weakest element is Tomas’ rendering of the woman, who is bitter and shrewish and deaf to her partner’s pleas to resolve their problem. There’s no hint of vulnerability in this interpretation, nothing to explain the character’s miserable temper. Some of that may have to do with the writing , though. As insightful as Edward's' writing is, as skillfully as he choreographs the collapse of their union, the story’s perspective is definitively male.
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Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A. through May 30. brownpapertickets.com.
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