Few things put your empathy transmission in park faster than junkies. Who are these people, squabbling away their days as they wait on the man to deliver a sad little packet of smack? At least pill-popping housewives actually get out of the house to fill their prescriptions. And it’s to the house, or more accurately a ratty Vancouver apartment, that we’re condemned in Canadian author Tom Walmsley’s play, Blood (1995). It’s a visit as nervy as it is enervating.
We join Noelle Terry (Alana Dauter) anxiously awaiting the arrival of a trick just after she receives news that one of her myriad suppliers-swingers has been knocked off. She’s instantly repulsive, a fleshpot dingbat given to peevish, foulmouthed mallspeak. But the woman is small potatoes compared to who’s at the door. Standing before us in all his sweating, shambling glory is brother Chris (Joel Mitchell). Five years gone in the wilderness of a rancid marriage and the bottle, Chris has come back to his sister. Back to what we soon learn is a long, tortured relationship fueled by lies and feigns and lust. The only destination, now clearly on the horizon, is a free-fall into pansexual incestuous debauch.
A ZeitGeist production is always an honest production, no matter how uneven or risky. Equal parts Chris Farley, Jackie Gleason and Denis Leary, Mitchell’s Chris careens between a doubtful yet desperate faith in addiction recovery and a mounting lust for the sins of addiction he knows and loves. Old times, old disasters. One moment he’s spouting off about God; the next he demands his sister re-enact with him, play by play, the seduction of some crapped-out lothario in her recovery group.
While Mitchell thrives in his character, Dauter has trouble keeping Noelle from the abyss of hate. Granted, Noelle’s a fucking mess — shrill, impulsive, crude, scheming. And this role requires a certain bravery, as the actress must use the imperfections of her own body to convey the surging ugliness of a hipster hellcat growing old all too quickly. But Dauter takes her over the top and off the cliff.
Perhaps that’s the point, though. Woody Allen would be hard-pressed to conjure up a more unsavory duo of passive-aggressive drama queens. What is Walmsley telling us in his overheated way? That addiction is only addiction if you allow yourself to be suckered into the recovery movement and all its attendant mind games and psychobabble? That addiction takes you to dark places, where actors playing junkies can eat the scenery and get their kicks too?
As hard as it tries to shock while being unrepentant about it, this play broadcasts a middle-class Toronto WASPy-ness, right down to the hapless Chris’ aborted career as an Anglican seminarian. Blood might have been hot shit in 1970, 25 years before it was written. But the whole romantic illusion of the needle and the damage done has been transformed, like all things fed through the maw of the entertainment-industrial complex, into suburban pabulum.
And nowhere is the stench of cliché more pungent than in the one character we never meet — Martin, the studly madman dealer who has achieved a toxic-mythic status in the Terry family, thanks to his prowess with a big knife and a bigger cock. The more we hear about this unseen jackass, the less we believe that Chris and Noelle are alive before us.
And after Noelle has delivered her last self-serving confession to an imaginary encounter group, it is disbelief that speeds you to the bar.
Blood is at ZeitGeist Performance Venue (2661 Michigan Ave., Detroit, less than a mile west of Tiger Stadium) through Nov. 23; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 4 p.m. Call 313-965-9192 or go to www.zeitgeistdetroit.org.Timothy Dugdale writes about books and theater for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]