Friday was a depressing news day. With the Colorado shooting and Rolling Stones article confirming that we are indeed doomed, the otherwise sunny day felt dark. With the certain knowledge that the end is nigh, and feeling altogether gloomy, I was strangely happy at the prospect of a dark piece of theatre. (Why see entertainment when you can wallow?) It was in this frame of mind that I attended Blood/Sailing by Blood Ensemble at boom! Theatre (through July 28; tickets).
Darkness is not something that theatre, and Seattle theatre in particular, does often without elements of humor to distract from material deemed “unapproachable,” or downlifting (if you will). Its description as a metal show meets experimental theatre with nary a sentence given to narrative aroused misgivings in me.
I don’t qualify for the cool sticker (they give stickers for coolness, right?) when it comes to music. I’m not sure I can name five metal bands. I can’t tell you I like metal music, or even outline the distinguishing characteristics of the genre. But experimental theatre. Oh yes. Give it to me any time.
Arriving at 7:15 for the 8 o’clock show, I was able to watch the cast congregate and finish their makeup outside the cramped theatre. Watching them apply ample amounts of dirt, sunken eyes, top hats, eye patches, and brown robes, I thought, “This is going to be good.” I wasn’t disappointed.
The narrative, and there is one, is a folklore/fairytale/legend of the group’s own devising. Centering on a volcano and an evil-doer, Mr. Clementine (played by a dastardly Jordan Melin), The Innocents are set to work in a factory of sorts building something more than likely nefarious in nature, but we never see what. The Innocents are presided over by a henchmen (the absolute goddess Gabrielle Schutz) who controls and punishes them as needed (yes, kind of hot).
Under the direction of Dayo Anderson (full disclosure, I know her) Blood/Sailing builds a story around small moments which creates a wonderfully terrifying, and surprisingly subtle production. The music, written and performed by the band Smooth Sailing (who provided the inspiration for the piece) sets the perfect mood for the eerie anticipation and terror of the unknown. (And apparently, I love metal. Well, I love them. Who knew?)
Blood/Sailing relies entirely on movement to the tell its story. (There’s no way the band could keep playing if they had to lower the volume so you could hear dialogue.) And while this method could spell disaster for a novice company, Blood Ensemble excelled at propelling the story through these compelling and sometimes creepy movements. Part-theatre, part-dance, part-metal show, Blood/Sailing blends these elements together seamlessly.
Particular moment of note is a long, sweet touch from ankle to knee executed by The Boy (Ricky Coates) on his love interest The Girl (Megan Jackson). Wonderful too, the overlooked, but clearly lovelorn Samantha Cooper as an Innocent who longs for The Boy and ribbon he gives The Girl.
Blood Ensemble also manages to pull off a chase scene on the side of a volcano (it gave me chills), and a literal cliffhanging moment where two persons battle to reclaim their purchase.
If movement is where Blood Ensemble excels, then they fail when they don’t trust their skills as movement artists. Throughout the play they use projections, silent-movie-style, to provide narrative and dialogue. Sadder still, is the cast miming the projected words.
When someone moved in such a simple way, indicating love, or lost life I didn’t need the projection telling me what was being said, nor did I need to be told who was evil in the play, or when we’d come out of a dream sequence. The other elements were strong enough to convey this information. The choice felt self-conscious in an otherwise fearless piece.
Thankfully, the projections are few and far between and mostly disappear by the second act. And the projections don’t change the artistry involved in what Blood Ensemble has created.
The end is questionable in the way you don’t want theatre to spell out exactly what it means. The ending forces you to figure out what you want light and dark to mean. From the literal to the utter metaphoric, I debated all options in my head and with my companion, and decided I’m happy I don’t have a definite answer.
Regardless of your feelings toward metal or experimental theatre, there’s a lot to enjoy about Blood/Sailing including an incredibly talented ensemble (the list being too long to name in entirety) who all have their own small arcs and redefine naivety. Melin’s Clementine is the quintessential evil machination with some of the most terrifying movements in the piece. And Schutz’s henchman is at once frightening and captivating.
The play succeeds at turning horror into good storytelling, a feat unto itself. More than that, it elevates the genre to be more than cheap gimmick and gore.
Go for the darkness. Stay for poignant metal story.