Thursday, September 30, 2010

the pulsing of the blood

Blood: A Scientific Romance
Sage Theatre

The stage hints at what is to come. Against a backdrop of hospital drapes, behind which the wheels of a stainless steel gurney are visible, a reel-to-reel projector casts an old-school anatomy lesson - sepia images of a pulsating heart and branching vessels, complete with a vintage voice-over that plunges you straight back to 1960. To the right, a desk with an open medical textbook, to the left, a bunk bed on a raised platform. It's an ambitious stage, and it speaks to the complexity of the play about to unfold.

Blood: A Scientific Romance opens as a shadow-play depicting a cross-country road trip in which the seven-year-old twins, Angelique and Poubelle, amuse themselves with cutouts and by finishing one another's thoughts in rhyming couplets. When the accident happens, the accident that kills their parents, the twins are not expected to live, particularly Angelique who suffers severe internal hemorrhaging. But when, at Poubelle's insistence, they are placed in the same room, against all medical odds they begin to thrive.

And when the attending physician adopts the girls and spirits them away to his isolated farm house to perform a decade of research upon them, to study the source of their physiological and physic bonds, the play adopts a decidedly creepy undertone.

This is at once a very intense play and a decidedly playful one. The doctor's obsessive record keeping, his nightly physical examinations of the twins, the cruel and unethical experiments to which he subjects the girls are the stuff of nightmares. The musical score, with its strident notes of distorted glass, both effectively heightens the dramatic tension that is never far from the surface, and parallels the clinical sterility with which the doctor and the twins live their lives.

And yet, there is an undeniable bond between Angelique and Poubelle and their adoptive father. Although Dr Glass is a very strict taskmaster, there are moments of real affection, particularly toward Poubelle, who displays an interest in biology that partially fulfills his craving for companionship and understanding. He needs the girls as much for the human connection as he does for the raw data with which they can provide him.

Ellen Close and Nicola Elson are mesmerizing as Angelique and Poubelle. There is a palpable connection between the two, a synchrony that lets one believe that they are actually fraternal twins. Close perfectly embodies the more frail twin, the one prone to dreaminess, while Elson is stunning as the more rebellious, the stronghold of the pair. I was particularly impressed with their Quebecois accents, which to my admittedly untrained ear sounded highly believable and I admired the way the twins, and by extension, the play, shifted effortlessly between English and French.

The lifelong game in which the girls engage, making up stories in rhyming couplets, in which they must without hesitation finish each other's thoughts, makes Blood: A Scientific Romance a beautifully lyrical play, which becomes almost musical when it shifts into French. The equally poetic language of biology heightens the linguistic complexity of Blood and allows it to straddle the world between cold hard science and inexplicable emotions.

When a recent medical school grad arrives to assist the doctor in his studies, his presence acts as a catalyst to the twins' longing to return to a world they have never known and the growing restlessness which accompanies their approaching adulthood. Angelique and Poubelle are suddenly forced to consider the possibility of life without each other.

Blood: A Scientific Romance explores love, in all its strange and sometimes disturbing forms. It's a strikingly powerful play that pulsates with life and forces us to examine all the painful, beautiful, messy complexities of the human connection.

Blood: A Scientific Romance is playing at Sage Theatre from September 30 - October 9, 2010.


phlegmfatale said...

SORRY - COMPLETELY OFF-topic, but this made me think of the Marthas:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Very Martha-esque indeed, Phlegmmy!