The first episode of the Blood Rose Rising series possessed creepy comic potential and an intriguing mix of multimedia, magic, and thrills that hinted at even better things to come. Alas, these hopes were dashed.
Heir of Suspicion (episode 2 of the Blood Rose Rising series). Written by Ben Evett and Steven Barkhimer. Co-produced by Georgia Lyman. Co-directed by Jess Ernst. Video consulting by Casey Preston. Magic consulting by Wally Napier. Lighting design by PJ Strachman. At Naga, 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA, through October 14.
By Alyssa Hall.
Despite vague artistic intent and some weak dialogue and characters, Immaterial Girl, the first episode of the Blood Rose Rising series (Arts Fuse review here), possessed creepy comic potential and an intriguing mix of multimedia, magic, and thrills that hinted at even better things to come. Unfortunately the much less polished Heir of Suspicion, with more flaws and fewer charms, is what has materialized.
Didn’t see episode one? Don’t worry. Immaterial Girl video clips (vague text about the plot so far and fuzzy visuals) play at the start of the show to help newcomers catch up as the excellent band Alchemilla plays live. While the clips serve as effective reminders for returning viewers, replacing the music with the clips’ audio or having the actors perform a comically quick recap (like the preview of the upcoming episode) might have made the plot clearer for newcomers.
Since episode one thoroughly set up the characters and premise (Robert Blackwood inherits a haunted mansion with an alluring ghost, Rose), Heir of Suspicion was primed to move with spritely aplomb into the meat (and bloody fun) of the story. Oddly, the narrative stagnates, wandering into a mire of plodding plots and melodramatic dialogue.
The essential plot is barely advanced in Heir. In about an hour, Robert only manages to refuse the Urbeutels’ business advances a few times, discover the two secret careers of his student Sharon, and bring her into the mansion for paranormal investigations. The dull, “girlfriend runs for state representative” subplot moves along even more glacially. Last episode, Olivia became wary of Robert’s odd behavior, her friend Wilson hit on her, and she contemplated making the mansion her headquarters. This episode, she goes to a restaurant to—guess what—get congratulated for her recent political success, find herself hit on by Wilson again, express more suspicions about Robert, and decide to make the mansion her headquarters.
The lack of dramatic action in Heir means lots of dialogue—stilted, soap opera dialogue worsened by line flubs. Perhaps this cast combination (Harry Aspinwall, Erin Brehm, and Jeff Marcus as Robert, Olivia, and Wilson/Mr. Urbeutel this performance) or under-rehearsal caused the roughness, but the actors lacked relaxed chemistry with each other and comfort with the script, sometimes even talking over other’s lines. Most likely Heir’s book had less time to be polished than Immaterial Girl’s, which had the benefit of being performed last year as well, and it shows.
If the dialogue generated meaningful character development some of the narrative’s weaknesses could be excused. Unfortunately, with the exception of Sharon, whose past is filed with much more interesting background, including a link to the main plot, the characters remain one-dimensional. Even Robert, who was endearingly hapless and comical in Girl, has been reduced to one immutable state—unhinged, vacant, and paranoid.
Similarly, the multimedia innovation stalls in Heir. The main projection screen, used frequently and creatively in Girl, now mostly just provides abstract, spooky atmosphere and still shots of scene locations. A few flashes of creativity remain—as Olivia reads Robert’s secret family journal, the pages flicker on the wall behind her to give the audience a peek at the contents.
Luckily, the magic tricks still entertain and enhance the proceedings. For example, Robert sees Rose with his murder victim at a bar. The victim pulls forth a white rose, slices it with the murder weapon, and, as the flower bleeds, pours wine/blood from it into Rose’s glass. This is simultaneously a cool trick and a great demonstration of Robert’s mental state—obsessed with Rose, guilty about the murder, and crazed enough to see visions.
It’s too bad that the last, action-filled, genuinely creepy and well-acted scene didn’t typify the entire series so far. In that final encounter, when Rose violently possesses Sharon, actors Poornima Kirby and Lynn Guerra impressively mirror each other’s stuttering movements and recite agitated lines in unison (barely ever looking at each other for guidance). They fully commit to the emotions of tense scene, yelling lines, screaming, and jerking in a macabre dance as the music rises, and for a brief, chill-inducing moemnt, the series coalesces into what it was striving to be all along.
The show’s producer just announced that the series, like Robert’s victims, will meet a premature end, closing early (this week) due to low ticket sales. Perhaps in the future, with more time to revise the current episodes, eliminating obvious weaknesses while expanding the magic, multimedia, and successful flashes of humor and horror, the Blood Rose Rising series will be resurrected in a way that lives up to its promise of ghostly grandeur.