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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Blood: A Comedy: Entertaining, Lightly Absurdist Play
at Dreamcatcher

Blood: A Comedy
David Miceli, Noreen Farley, Jessica O'Hara-Baker, Clark Carmichael and
F. David Halpert

Jacqueline Stanzi is a college professor in her sixties who is facing encroaching dementia. Although she is a lifelong atheist, Jacqueline is now considering the possibilities of faith, the Book of Proverbs with its trumpeting of the value of Confession, Compassion and Forgiveness, and the harm which the lack of these qualities has done to her unhappy family. Tonight, Jacqueline is determined to confront the mess that her family has made of itself, and set matters aright. Jacqueline explains this to us in her monologue which opens the mildly absurdist Blood: A Comedy. However, there is little reason to be concerned about religion, philosophy, Jacqueline's Alzheimer's, or any of the problems which Jacqueline's clan faces. For playwright David Lee White does not appear to be concerned about them either. White is a craftsman whose primary interest is in constructing a play. On display is White's not inconsequential ability to keep a play flowing with colorful characters, nicely paced revelations, lively confrontations, humorous, sometimes clever dialogue, a dollop of pathos here and there, and a thin overlay of philosophy. Although the seams show and he sometimes misses the mark, by and large White stitches each of these elements together to provide a pleasant, light entertainment. Add the strong ensemble performance by members of Dreamcatcher Rep's resident acting company under the direction of Laura Ekstrand, and this lively production is well worth attending.

Jacqueline has two rather messed up children. First on the scene is daughter Franny. Although in her thirties and still living at home with her mother, she purportedly has so much sex that she may be the only person who actually spends $3,000 a year on condoms. However, tomorrow, she will be marrying Matthew, a "born again virgin" from whom she hides her history of sexual activity and tattoos. Tonight, Matthew and his father Noah are coming to dinner in order to meet Jacqueline for the first time.

Unbeknownst to Franny, Jacqueline has invited her rarely on the scene older brother Alec to the dinner party. Ne'er do well Alec, who is always scheming, seems to have been a prostitute (Jacqueline informs us that "Alec is gay and likes big breasted porn") and also to have run a small Internet pornographic web site; he is now involved in a pyramid scheme. Of course, the sharply acid tongued Alec eviscerates the well meaning, but dull and foolish Matthew. Jacqueline insists that they play a game which requires all to confess some secret of which they are ashamed or embarrassed by, for which "they get a cheese cube and all is forgiven".

Revelations abound, none more meaningful than the ones involving Jacqueline and Noah, Matthew's father. White creates his twisty happy ending by having Alec behave in a manner diametrically opposite to his established persona.

Blood: A Comedy premiered in 2009 at the Passage Theatre in Trenton where author David Lee White is Associate Artistic Director. Director Laura Ekstrand has brought her incisive sensibility and ear for comedy to this, its second, production.

Noreen Farley brilliantly deadpans her way through the off-center figure of wisdom/nonsense that is Jacqueline. To observe Farley's performance is to see something akin Buster Keaton reincarnated as a woman. David Miceli manages to make Alec more palatable by portraying him as someone totally comfortable and satisfied with himself just being the louse that he is. Miceli's felicitous performance throws into stark relief the discrepancy between Alec and his ultimate behavior.

Clark Carmichael's balanced performance plays at least as fully to the decency as to the goofiness of the born again Matthew. Still, being the butt for so much of White's humor makes Matthew Blood's fool. Jessica O'Hara Baker conveys the fear and frustration which Alec's cruel threats subject Franny to, while almost always nimbly avoiding any shrillness in her performance.

The extended absurdism and mockery grows tedious in the latter part of the first act as it comes at the expense of, rather than in the service of, our involvement with the characters. A neat surprise, despite the exposed seam where it has been sewn into the fabric, is the second act shift to a more involving, gentler tone and sensibility. Most notable is the moving defense of Noah and stinging rebuke to Alec by Matthew's father, Noah. Delivered with stunning simplicity and quiet fervor by F. David Halpert, it becomes the dramatic and emotional center of Blood. Halpert is so real here that he makes it appear that he is simply being himself.

Blood: A Comedy continues performances (Evenings: Friday and Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees Sunday 2 pm) through March 25, 2012, at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Company, Baird Cultural Center in Meadowland Park, 5 Mead Street, South Orange, New Jersey 07079. Box Office: (Brown Paper Tickets) 1-800-838-3006; online: www.dreamcatcherrep.org. Theatre: 973-378-7754 ext. 2228.

Blood-A Comedy by David Lee White; directed by Laura Ekstrand
Cast
Jacqueline Stanzi………………….Noreen Farley
Franny Stanzi…………….Jessica O'Hara-Baker
Alec Stanzi…………………………….David Miceli
Matthew Fisher………………..Clark Carmichael
Noah Fisher……………………...F. David Halpert


Photo: Steve McIntyre


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- Bob Rendell



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