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“Bride of Blood” Dripping with…?

And the Lord said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.
And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him.
Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.
So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision. Exodus 4:21-26

By Ernest Kearney — At the very least, congratulations must be bestowed on Writer/Director Amit Itelman’s Bride of Blood as hands down the wackiest show I’ve encountered in 2018.

Now before we start, reread the Old Testament passage above. Granted, the pages of the Bible are crammed full of zombies, unicorns, a talkative donkey, four footed birds, four faced angels, disciples who explode, giants, recipes for baking with human dung, and an army of obedient and venomous vipers on a divine mission ** writer's hand ** nevertheless, this short selection plucked from Exodus has to rank as the strangest.

It describes God’s somewhat puzzling attempt to kill Moses, or Moses’ baby son; it’s a bit unclear as you can discern from reading it. This altercation occurs at the outset of Moses’ adventures, soon after being commanded by God to uproot his life and return to Egypt for a showdown with the Pharaoh.

With his wife Zipporah, carrying their infant son in her arms, Moses had barely set off in the direction of the pyramids, when inexplicably God buckjumps him seemingly intent on dispensing some holy homicide.

Seeing her husband attacked Zipporah rushes to his defense. Grabbing a sharp stone that’s close at hand, she quickly uses it to lob off her son’s (or maybe Moses’) foreskin, then hurls the severed tidbit at God’s (or maybe Moses’) feet. **writer's hand ** Why this causes God to vanish is left unexplained, but vanish he does. Throughout the ages, pundits puzzled over this passage which sticks out from the scriptures like an embarrassingly fat zit on the nose of the holy book.

Today, scholars regard it as a remnant mistakenly left in by some early editor of the Torah.

Now the reason for this little foray into comparative religions, is that you’re gonna need it to have any hope of making the slightest bit of sense of what’s about to follow. Because you see, Zipporah, Moses’ feisty little lady, is the Bride of Blood.

Itelman’s show kicks off with organist Randy Woltz fingering a yawling eerie score by composer Graham Reynolds that harkens back to the old horror films of William Castle.

From this point the audience is treated — or subjected — to a whirling maelstrom of concepts and world views snatched from a hurly-burly of sources and dispensed in a hodgepodge of styles oscillating between a Talmudic melodrama and a quirky Apocryphal Faustian allegory of the Gospel According to Sid and Marty.

More or less.

We open in the ancient kingdom of Israel. Solomon, (Steven Schub) heir of King David and the wisest of all men finds, when it comes to fathoming the meaning of Exodus 4:21-26, that his fabled wisdom fails him. By way of a secret door he sneaks into the “holiest of the holy” the forbidden temple chamber where the Ark of the Covenant is enshrined. A golden chest adorned with two cherubim flanking the kapporet (the mercy seat), on which Solomon finds Wisdom (Erika Stasiuleviciute) the feminine embodiment of God’s logos as presented in the Book of Wisdom.

“For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;
because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
For she is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.”
Book of Wisdom 24-26

Pressing Wisdom for answers, all Solomon receives from her are more questions. Driven by desperation and vanity to obtain understanding of what is unknowable, Solomon, like Faust, Oedipus, Hamlet and Luke Skywalker before him, turns to the “dark side.”

Casting a conjurement off an ancient forbidden scroll he summons forth the multi-headed demon of both Jewish and Islamic lore – Asmodeus (Tom Ballatore).

From here —
(Wait for it!)
— things get weird.

Time travel, the romance of Sheba, Talmudic legends, R. Crumb, the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel, “the weeping prophet,” battles with magical rings, the destruction of the temple, Ethiopian myths of the Solomonic dynasty, family squabbles, political intrigue, monsters undergoing circumcision.

Itelman creates a concoction that draws on a mishmash of conflicting texts and philosophical schools, drawing inspiration from Tex Jones and Julie Tamor all the while displaying the gleeful abandon of a three-year-old that’s just discovered finger painting.

Trepany House has mounted Bride of Blood for a limited run at the Skylight Theatre in order to workshop the piece in preparation for a full production at a future date; leading me to try and sidestep away from writing this review. However, having been assured that the producers desire any and all observations and appraisals, here we go:

The Bride of Blood left me feeling as dazed as a hoe-wacked goose, and as frustrated as Helen Keller trying to read a stucco wall after mistaking it for a braille edition of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

As it is, the play is a mess – albeit a rather intriguing mess.
It is a play that certainly possesses great potential and that fails for lack of a nail.
Well a few nails.

First and foremost, clarity is needed. Most of us love a riotous roller coaster ride that robs us of our breath, catching us unawares with its dips, unsettling us by its unforeseen shifts. Still for all the spills and thrills even the most rampageous roller coaster is orchestrated by the solid clarity of its tracks.

I’m not sure that Itelman has given much attention to the design of his “tracks,” and if he doesn’t have a clear idea where he wants this show to go, what chance does the audience have of following along?

There are hints this show is a comedy, a decision that demands resolution. Once that issue is settled, the audience must be informed of the fact even before they take their seats.

When Itelman does his job in addressing this question, the audience will know it’s their job to laugh, and in the quasi-religious pageant on stage at the Skylight there is much worth laughing at.

As one raised in the Bible belt of this country, I can tell you for a fact, if every Christian in America was seated at a table with a Bible before them and forced to read the “Good Book” cover to cover…. Well, you’d have a lot fewer Christians afterward.

For example, the scriptures exalt Solomon for his wisdom, then we’re told he had 700 wives. C’mon folks, if he racked himself up 700 wives how wise could he have been?
The lack of thematic clarity in the writing is reflected in the vagueness of the performances:

As Solomon, Schub flutters off and on the mark and seems to ache to release his inner Groucho.

While the Christians have appointed Asmodeus one of the seven ruling princes of Hell, his depiction in the Talmud is somewhat more benign, assigning him the role of Wile E. Coyote to Solomon’s Road Runner.

In the Book of Solomon, a pseudepigraphic text from the 3rd century, Asmodeus introduces himself as the evil spirit who, “transports men into fits of madness and desire when they have wives of their own.”

As the demon, Ballatore somewhat reminds one of Norm in Cheers. Only with three heads and wings.

While Schub and Ballatore have their flashes, the rest of the cast languishes in the realm of “Neitherfishnorfowldomain.”

Stasiuleviciute may be very easy on the audience’s eyes, but that doesn’t mean she can ignore their ears. She needs to imbue her voice with a sense of presence that will carry it passed the seats of the second row.

Another flaw that invalidates a major asset involves the specialized props and creatures created by Frederick Fraleigh.

They are amazing to look at but painful to watch being operated due to a truly abysmal lack of skillful puppetry in their use, (this comes from one who was a professional puppeteer for a number of years.) An individual with some mastery in the craft needs to be found who will work with the actors.

This show is nowhere as good as it should be or can be.

Overall a fair amount of the “heavy lifting” required here has been attended to, so the future success of this undertaking will rise or fall on the consideration applied to those aforementioned “nails.”

1) Clarity of the genre
2) Translating that genre-clarification into a foundation for the actors to build solid performances on.
3) A crash course in Puppetry 101

This show should have been a wonderful evening of theatre, and it’s vexing that it wasn’t.

However, for all its many failings Bride of Blood avoided the unforgivable sin in not breaking the only commandment I schlepped down from the mountain top: “Thou Shall Not Bore the Piss Outa Me.”

(NOTE: Featured in Above Image  —  Larose Washington as Zipporah, Photo By Thomas Hargis)

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** writer's hand ** Matthew 27:52-53, Isaiah 34:7 (among others), Numbers 22:28-35, Leviticus 11:20, Ezekiel 1:5-11, Acts 1:18, Genesis 6:4, Ezekiel 4:12 and Numbers 21:6
** writer's hand ** “At his feet…” if all this wasn’t confusing enough, in the Old Testament parlance “feet” is often a code word for “genitals.”

 

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Form more information on future mountings of Bride of Blood click HERE.

Skylight Theatre Company
1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Administrative Office:
(818) 900-2193

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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