Fresh Eyes on FEATHERS AND TEETH, 3rd Installment
Where there are beasts, there will be blood. So this week’s rehearsals for FEATHERS AND TEETH included one that was entirely devoted to figuring out the blood: where does it go, how does it get there, how long does it take to clean up? It was a fun (if very messy) day, and Fresh Eyes were in the room.
ELIZABETH E. TAVARES
Feathers & Teeth: REEL Blood & Vinyl Dining
“Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.”
– Titus Andronicus, Titus Andronicus
The thing about Blood Day is that it isn’t about the blood. In fact, while there are two kinds of sanguineous colors (brick and burnt orange) and consistencies (runny and sticky) used in FEATHERS AND TEETH, yesterday’s rehearsal was about costumes and limbs. If you think of stage blood, REEL™ blood, as a cosmetic rather than an accident, rehearsing with it becomes a study in how not to touch oneself. What jeans can I wipe with these bloodied hands? Will this dress be machine-washable? How sticky is too sticky? Following splatter patterns accrues equal an importance to the consideration of audiences’ sight-lines. Will they see the drops on the mottled-yellow, vinyl dining chairs? Are the front rows going to need poncho protection?
Despite the technical challenges with any stage cosmetic—blood, gold, rouge—and the seriousness representing viscera onstage suggests, there was something desperately funny about the whole affair. At the first test of a blood-splaying prop, the entire row of production designers, stage managers, and visiting donors had to take a collective jump back in their seats to avoid its success. A collective giggle from the room pooled into outright laughter when Darius Pierce (Arthur) and Agatha Day Olson (Chris) then tried to recover their wits over Chinese take-away. Perhaps what is so funny about blood is two-fold. We try to escape the blood of others when it gets on our hands (and, perhaps, in our souls), which seems a vain (or vein) exercise. Additionally, blood is our best evidence that the body will out, that our bodies will get the best of us despite our intentions—like a fart joke or a banana slip. Regardless of our ability to reason, we are still at the whims of a faulty rotator cuff.
In this light, perhaps it was unsurprising that it was the middle-school actors who were more than happy to dive into the fray. Those playing parents were protected by white t-shirts and hospital footies, but, again, blood will out. Kids, either because they are used to being in a state of continual learning or because they are simply closer to the ground, readily embrace the sticky we all carry around. What might that say about the adults who, like Carol (Sara Hennessy), find ourselves constantly trying to wipe up the mess—of roadkill and otherwise?
It's February 22nd, and that means one thing - BLOOD DAY. "Blood Day" is a set of two words best viewed in 30-point Gothic text, evoking pseudo-Viking death metal, bone altars, and general badassery, but today simple capital letters will have to suffice.
There are at least three types of blood used in FEATHERS & TEETH - wet human stage blood, a darker kind belonging to the titular creatures, and a sticky type that isn't so easy to wash off since the play requires some to linger. Blood Day is the day in which all of these types are tested - because blood is messy, it tends to fling at people easily, and, as it turns out, it's completely hilarious.
"Is it OK to get blood on the door?" asks Darius Pierce, the actor playing the father character Arthur.
"Yes," says stage manager Carol Ann Wohlmut, "This exercise is to see where the blood will go."
(Spoiler alert: it goes everywhere. And not just blood - there's also flying Chinese food.)
Out of concern for the theatre, the costumes, set pieces, and the sheer plethora of gears that make a show possible, Darius is rather meticulous on set. Every now and then he channels Phil Hartman's Anal Retentive Chef from SNL.
"Should there be blood already on my clothes when I come in?" He asks.
"Yes, you're predistressed," says Dámaso.
"I'm predistressed," Arthur repeats.
"Permanently distressed," Dámaso adds.
Blood Day is a rehearsal day, yes, but there's an additional sense of glee accompanying this rehearsal. The actors are all wearing throwaway, blood-ready clothes, donors have gathered to catch a glimpse of the carnage, and nobody can stop laughing. There's something completely spellbinding, hilarious, and magical about watching Agatha, a 13-year-old, stab a pot and launch blood all into the air while two adults scream in disharmony. On the page, this scene comes off as abrupt and unexpected (and therefore funny in the nervous sort of way) but in person it's an absolute, undeniable scream. Maybe it's because it reminds me so much of Mel Brooks staking the vampire Lucy in Dracula Dead & Loving It to the accompaniment of over-the-top gore, but regardless it points out something about FEATHERS & TEETH that I can't ignore.
After the very first read-through, I have to admit I found a little troll somewhere inside me muttering "That's it?" The play had horror, yes, it had comedy, yes, but it felt like it was missing some extra meat somewhere in there, like a tendon or two had been left off the page. And yet in rehearsal, watching all these parts begin to come together - the Pink Floyd songs, the way Carol phrases her statements, the way Arthur navigates the two women in his life, the way Christine does anything, the way a little German neighbor boy says "I cannot continue to be complicit in this tragedy" completely earnestly, and the blood, oh god mother, blood! - you begin to realize just how rich and multilayered (nearly to the point of schizophrenia) Charise Castro Smith's text is. The key isn't to play it as comedy, or as horror, but realistically - how would these characters, if they were real people, actually react to the complete insanity of their predicament? I can't wait to see where these developments take the show next week with tech, and to see just how much FEATHERS & TEETH ends up echoing the complete insanity of our own national predicament, but with the relief of the funny kind of blood - not the real kind that tends to linger and make a mess out of everything.