“I’ve always wanted to do a play about Skokie [Illinois],” says actor and playwright Hannah Bos, who grew up in nearby Evanston. “You don’t explicitly know that Blood Play takes place in Skokie. When we found this creepy, medieval, anti-Semitic mythology, and these fear-mongering old texts and woodcuttings that are the seed of this play—we didn’t know that it would translate into a 1950s ranch house.”
Incongruity is not unusual in the work of Bos’s Brooklyn-based Debate Society, which she co-founded nearly a decade ago with fellow writer/actor Paul Thureen and director Oliver Butler. Known for elaborate sets and stylized explorations of the American past through genre-based plays, the company has developed a reputation for marrying disparate elements in surprising ways that resonate far beyond the bounds of genre.
The 2010 production of Buddy Cop 2, which won an Obie, combined ’80s “buddy cop” movies and a fictional tabloid scandal about attempted infanticide to tell a bittersweet story of small town America’s loss of innocence. In Blood Play, which runs Oct. 3–27 at Brooklyn’s Bushwick Starr, the Debate Society filters the medieval concept of “blood libel”—the idea that Jews would murder Christian children for their blood—through the vocabulary of thriller cinema to explore how fear-mongering is used to control others.
“With genre, what we like to do is play with expectations of how stories work, but not in an ironic way, or a way that creates distance with the audience,” explains director Butler.
Thureen agrees. “It’s a thriller as far as we’re concerned. But would anyone else see this and think it’s a thriller?” he adds hypothetically, with a chuckle. “It’s a Debate Society thriller, which means it’s also kind of sad.”
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!