The Streaming Experience: Theater in Quarantine’s Blood Meal
With a big superficial laugh in the midst of a long outdoor goodbye after a shared drink on the porch, Blood Meal rides forward, deliciously wise and witty, but decidedly itchy. The engagement rings authentically tense, but the next time is going to be different, the couple says, nervously. But somewhere in the rectangles that exist inside that bigger box they call home, some bug has overtaken the two, and made them very nervous and electrically intense. Billed as a “satirical thriller” inside the press release, this tense young couple, played wholeheartedly by Joshua William Gelb and Lee Minora, burrows under the skin of the neurotic infestation that has taken over their packed up home. It fits, this buggy exploration, as we all find ourselves trapped inside, isolated and disconnected, but instead of finding security and safety indoors, the fear that lives inside the hearts of these two characters, is what lives inside their house.
The horror of Blood Meal lurks in the walls and the floors, scampering about and breathing in an itchy subliminal discomfort that sneaks inside our minds. Those nasty blood-sucking insects make the couple’s homey indoors their packed up prison cell, and the snowy outdoors a place that the two avoid at all costs, so they don’t unleash the same bloody horror on all those unsuspecting innocents that wander the hills and the valleys around them. It’s a creepy crawly plague, wonderfully crafted, with the tell-tale symptom being a dried bloody trail, and the cure being an uncertain gas bomb that doesn’t seem to always eradicate the creatures. It lives most bravely inside Theater in Quarantine‘s new hugely inventive experiment thriving vibrantly in the smallest possible space, while breathing quite profoundly into our heads through its creation and streaming.
Written by Scott R. Sheppard, who co-wrote and co-starred in Underground Railroad Game, Blood Meal finds fascinating intensity encapsulated inside the confines of the tight eclectic production that is both clever and creepy. The couple, Sam and Lindsay, played wonderfully by Geib and Minora, firstly offer up a hilarious avalanche of excuses for not inviting their unseen neighbors into their home. But as the 35-minute streamed play unfolds, we start to understand the claustrophobic infestation that exists inside, one draped in absolute fear and uncluttered shame. The emotionality resonates in the “squeeze, squeeze, squeeze,” with dialogue that reverberates between the two, filling our imagination with the uncomfortable thoughts of bugs on our body, and further cluttering it with the paranoia that the last chemical bomb didn’t quite do the trick. They anxiously wait, hoping not to see the trailings of what the Blood Meal always leaves behind, as they dream and hope of a reconnection to the world outside. But the infestation burrows deep, and the secret shameful anxiety remains as pure as the white snowy hills they fantasize about. The fear of being harmed by or spreading the unseen danger is clearly designed to parallel our current situation, engaging all of our senses in our individual quarantined and trapped pods, wanting and hoping for release, but unsure and uneasy about what that possible freedom could bring. It’s an idea and a premise me can all relate to.
In the ten months since the COVID shut-down of live in-person physical theaters, Gelb has dug deep inside his creative mind (and closet), and found a miraculously unique vision in the experimental way he delivers some two dozen pieces of work, all from the tight and white confines of his East Village closet. It’s a marvel to witness, time and time again, just like his Footnote for the End of Time. Inside that apartment closet, measuring only four feet wide, eight feet tall, and two feet deep, Gelb’s Theater in Quarantine shows just what is possible if your imagination is infinitely bigger than your closet, discovering and presenting theatricality and a mind-blowing spirit. They live and breath in a bigger world than the space they are created in, never disappointing, even, as with Blood Meal, they struggle somewhat to fully engage consistently beyond the creepy crawly envisioning. The production is clever and well crafted, thanks to the creative team made up of Stivo Arnoczy (video design), Kate Marvin (sound design), Brian Bose (social media), and Morgan Lindsey Tachco (creative producer), but sometimes lacking in deeping the abstractionism of the infestation. Inside the pandemic performance laboratory, brought to us by writer, director, and performer Gelb alongside choreographer Katie Rose McLaughlin, the world premiere of Blood Meal, delivers a satirical thriller that doesn’t get blown away by the chemical bomb.
After premiering on February 1 on Theater in Quarantine‘s YouTube channel, Blood Meal has been made available at www.youtube.com/joshuawilliamgelb, alongside the complete Theater in Quarantine archive, in perpetuity. And for that, our quarantined hearts should be truly grateful.
Blood Meal is made possible in part by Theater Mitu’s Artists-at-Home Program. Theater in Quarantine’s work is generously supported by a Creative Residency with La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, as participants in LaMaMa and CultureHub’s Experiments in Digital Storytelling program, and by many individual donors.