by Terra Vetter on 4.14.10
BOTTOM LINE: Lots of entertainment, but not a ton of depth.
Sometimes what you need when you go to the theater isn't depth, reflection or revelation - sometimes escapism is enough. Joe Iconis's new musical Bloodsong of Love isn't an earth-shattering, eye-opening piece, but it is a well-produced and amusing evening, and certainly engaging enough to provide a few hours of blissful escape from the outside world.
Bloodsong of Love is intended as a spoof on Spaghetti Westerns, a 1960's subgenre of Western movies that were produced in Italy. Prior to doing some research, I had only heard the term once or twice and never gave it much thought. I was a little concerned that not being familiar with the genre could be a barrier to enjoying the piece, but in this case, any familiarity with Spaghetti Westerns seems largely irrelevant. Bloodsong of Love is a mockery of any shallowly-written movie. It's a tricky thing spoofing something so shallow however, because it makes infusing meaning into the spoof a formidable task. Bloodsong of Love tells the story of the Musician and his buddy Banana, who go on a journey to rescue the Musician's wife from an evil villain. The plot is unrealistic and a bit thin, the characters are almost all caricatures, and the next moment is often predictable.
Lest this sound as if there is nothing to enjoy in Bloodsong of Love, let me highlight the significant highpoints. Iconis's score is catchy and endearing, with a few real standout songs. Aided by the clear voice of Eric William Morris and the sweet, sincere acting of Lance Rubin, a buddy song between the Musician and Banana offers up one of the few touching sentiments of the show. The cast is more or less solid across the board, and director John Simpkins makes marvelous use of Ars Nova's very tight space, even with the band on stage. (On a side note, someone should note to the band that it's not just actors who should spit out their gum before a performance).
Every show has a standout, and in Bloodsong of Love it is Jeremy Morse as the evil villain. Morse's villain is short in stature and large in personality, a kazoo-playing control freak with a serious sadist side. His pinnacle moment is an infectious, forceful rock song (with a surprisingly effective featured kazoo) whose lyrics proclaim "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the dick of the dog in the fight." Morse's delivery and energy are flawless, and the result is an audience full of people holding their sides and literally wiping away tears of laughter. While Morse is the standout, Eric William Morris has considerable stage presence as the Musician, Lance Rubin seeks out moments of sincerity and adds a bit of humanity to the show as Banana, and although she doesn't have a ton of stage time, Katrina Rose Dideriksen's full and polished voice adds to every song it touches.
Bloodsong of Love owes both its biggest virtues and its biggest downfalls to its similarity to another spoof musical: Evil Dead the Musical. There is a lot of irrelevant and uninteresting blood and gore. While in the beginning of the first act it is amusing to see a merchant's daughter smearing herself in fish guts, seeing fake blood spray gratuitously in all directions gets boring by the end of the show. And the fact that the front row is provided ponchos for splash protection, a la Evil Dead, seems not only unnecessary, but extremely distracting. Every time the nervous patrons in the front row raise their ponchos in anticipation it is impossible to watch anything else. Like Evil Dead however, Bloodsong of Love is easy, harmless fun and should be a big hit with anyone looking for a diversion from the real world.
(Bloodsong of Love plays at Ars Nova, 511 West 54th Steet, through May 9th. Performances are Wednesdays through Sundays at 8pm. Tickets are $25 ($15 for the "splatter zone" in the front row). For more information and tickets call 212.352.3101 or visit arsnovanyc.com.)