Nosedive’s Grand Guignol

I made a commitment in my mind that I would write about every show, regardless of whether or not I particularly liked it. We’ve been going back and forth about just how useful bloggers and the blogging community is, and if I’m gonna defend us, or even give us a half hearted celebratory high five, then I have to be willing to write about shows, done by friends and people I adore, that I didn’t love.

Blood Brothers falls into this category. I feel like I have to start with that, I can’t walk away from this show recommending it, and I want that to be the first thing I say because, actually, there was a lot about it that I liked.

The evening itself doesn’t fully work, but it’s important to know why. Nosedive have a very specific aesthetic, and it’s one that I adore. There are a lot of companies that have a Brechtian concept, where they want you to see the duct tape and bailing wire, but Nosedive mostly just doesn’t *care* if you see it. If you go to someone’s home and they have a wall of exposed brick, that’s a choice, and if they put up plaster walls, that’s a choice. Nosedive put up a plaster wall but then don’t tape it or putty it. They just paint it and hang art and figure the seams are there, no point in pretending they aren’t.

More often than not, this works great for me. It feels almost more honestly post-modern than the over wrought hanging cables or bravely awkward line readings of the too-much-college crowd. In this show, though, it ended up undermining the production entirely. For a horror genre, probably more than any other, you really have to be very careful about what is seen by the audience, and what is hidden. The back stage crashes, the long set changes, the blood balloons that take too long to pop, these all end up stopping the real fear and nausea from creeping in. I found myself getting genuinely involved, only to be taken out of the play before I could be swept away. It was doubly frustrating because you can see the care and craft that went in to the play.

A few things that I thought were really impressive.

1) All of the directors. Seriously, this is an awkward space, it’s difficult to know exactly how to make the shows work inside the Brick. But every one of the directors figured out how to space things and focus on the stories so that I never once felt like I was in an awkward theater space.

As an example, I’ve been watching Nosedive for years now, and I have to say Pete Boisvert is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors to watch. I get the sense that he’s not doing a lot of actor-teaching, soul-wrenching nonsense that many less experienced directors think is their responsibility. Instead, he just focuses on the use of the space and the pacing of the piece. He and I have never spoken about it, but if I had to guess, I would say he’s not focused on anyone’s job other than his. He’s not teaching the actors to act, he’s not micro-managing rewrites, he’s simply serving the piece. You can really tell.

Abe Goldfarb first knocked me out as a director with Nosedive’s piece in last year’s Vampire Cowboys’ Saloon, and in this show he proved his talent. Rebecca Comtois’ piece was one of the most horrifying of the night, with a simple one night stand as the ultimate nightmare, but honestly, the whole night was really even, with all the pieces well staged and well communicated.

2) The women actors. Cotton Wright, Jessi Gotta and Rebecca Comtois are just so stinking good. All three of them are sensational in everything I see them in, and they doubled up on several different roles in this evening’s plays. I wasn’t actually familiar with Becky Byers before this show, and I was knocked out by her. She was very, very real, even though she was in totally surreal circumstances. And, although he’s not a woman, Patrick Shearer is one of those actors that is so compelling, I just wish I could see him on stage even more. He’s a complete force of nature.

All of that being said, I still have to say there were too many problems with the evening. I mentioned the production problems, but more than that, I wanted a clearer sense of what the evening was supposed to mean. I was so excited, five minutes in, because they were saying, “are there vampires? ghosts? werewolves? Of course not, that’s not what we should be afraid of…” and then they revealed that every story is based on a true story, with newspaper headlines from local papers as source material. Why are we horrified by the supernatural, it’s the totally average person that you see every day that should terrify you.

The problem is that not all the stories supported this idea. The person sitting next to you might be your worst nightmare, but then we have a killer on a bus who’s clearly intensely mentally ill. The person sitting next to me… he just isn’t intensely mentally ill. The first story, of a man who keeps his daughter trapped in the cellar for 24 years, and doesn’t see anything wrong with it – that guy could live next door, but then a woman who scratches through her own skin and skull, all the way down to the brain… What, in the end, does it mean?

Okay, okay, not everything has to be profound. But the production didn’t quite close the deal on being believably gross, or very terrifying, so I wanted there to be some larger meaning. It may not seem like constructive criticism to say, “the man sitting next to me isn’t intensely mentally ill”, but the evening could have been stories like the first, or the one-night-stand, where people do a series of small terrible things that seem reasonable, and we still could have had the horror and the gross out effects, but in the end it would have said something more.

I enjoyed the night because I just love it when I sit in the seats and everyone’s doing their thing. But I would love to see one of these Blood Brothers nights unified behind a common idea, and let the entire evening support the thesis. There is so much talent in this group, and when they are committed to a specific concept, they are just transporting. In this show, I just didn’t get this sense.