Friday, June 10, 2016

Bloody Beautiful (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Interestingly, this is the fourth play in the last decade I've seen to feature the infamous "blood countess" Erzebet Bathory.  It is also one of the better ones.  Not without flaws, but a fair amount of real potential.  Honestly, this felt like a workshop for what could one day be a very powerful, disturbing piece of theatre.

Bloody Beautiful, written and performed by Erica Flor, has at its heart a conceit filled with promise.  Erica plays a (presumably) fictionalized version of herself, a San Diego actress who in the midst of studying the infamous "Blood Countess" finds part of her mind channeling the long-dead noblewoman.  Is the ghost of Erzebet reaching out from the other side?  Or is, as both characters seem to hint, she simply the Jungian shadow of Erica given voice and agency?

Leaving this question unanswered earns my genuine applause.

Not exploring either option in that much depth makes me kinda shake my head.

At heart the script in its current form doesn't introduce us very much to either character nor to their relationship.  The nearest thing that happens is along that way is the eerie episode when Erzebet first fully manifested herself in Erica's mind while driving a car in the wake of an act of random violence.  Likewise the climax of the one-woman-show held a genuine surprise, something inherently theatrical.  Likewise I must say Flor shows a lot of courage overall -- not least by the full frontal nudity with which the show begins and ends.

But here's the thing.  Here is how the official Fringe product play describes this work:  Fascinated by Erzsebet Bathory, the infamous Hungarian “Blood Countess,” Proboscis company member Erica Flor has developed a solo performance piece that confronts the question “how is it possible that a noble woman of the late renaissance could possibly have tortured and murdered over 650 victims within ten years?”  Okay, this play never dealt with this question once. It mentioned that question, tossing off a perfectly logical answer (wealth + power + isolation + sadist), but not once did I care about that question.  Why should I?  The relationship between Erzebet and Erica--now that I attracted my attention quite a bit!

Yet that relationship is what needs developing.  Honestly, I know next-to-nothing about Erica after seeing this play than I did going in.  Why should she find female serial killers so fascinating?  Along those same lines, why should Erzebet hold such a sway over her?  Apart from the near-total lack of detail regarding Erica, we also never get a sense of how this relationship developed, what it was at first.  Frankly one reason the ending surprises is because we have zero expectations.  Who is Erica?  I don't know.  Who is Erzebet?  Again, I don't know -- other than a shameless sadist who seems to prefer girls.

Mind you, accomplishing all this is a big challenge for one actor on stage all by oneself.  It might work better to see Erica especially interact with others.  Even if we don't see those others.  Maybe.  Either way, the real promise remains very much alive on stage and technically Flor shows some real skill at physical control (never once for example does either character seem like the other).

Bottom line--I want to see this work evolve into something more than it is at present.  I have high hopes for it.

Blood Beautiful plays three more performances, Sunday June 12 at 2pm,Saturday June 18 at 11:55pm, and
Saturday June 25 at 11:55pm at the Lounge Theatre (one block east of Vine) 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard.

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