Theater archives

The Debate Society Goes Drinking in the Basement


These days, North Brooklyn has a fresh bar on practically every corner. But if you want a Tahitian Tease, a Robin Red Breast, or a Saw Blade with its singular garnish of orange and beet, you’ll have to belly up to the Bushwick Starr, where the Debate Society mixologists present Blood Play, their latest theatrical cocktail, as tasty as it is esoteric.

Bushwick’s newest watering hole: a ’50s basement den, resplendent in its ersatz Polynesia (courtesy designer Laura Jellinek), the suburban retreat of Bev and Morty Feinberg. With most of the neighborhood kids away on a scouting trip and the Feinberg’s own young son, Ira, camping in the backyard, neighborhood grown-ups gather there to drink and talk and indulge in parlor games, such as Grandfather Clock, a saucy frolic played with two potatoes, two oranges, and sturdy lengths of twine. Amid the retro tomfoolery, hints of darker matter accumulate—whispers of psoriasis, desperate poisonings, sudden deaths, etc.

As in every Debate Society show, Blood Play is directed by Oliver Butler and scripted by Hannah Bos, who plays Bev, and Paul Thureen, who plays the door-to-door photographer Jeep Matson. The trio specialize in creating fully realized, deeply imagined environments, like the small-town police headquarters of Buddy Cop 2 or the Midwestern trails and ways of Cape Disappointment. In other hands, the rubes and rogues who populate their plays might bear the whiff of condescension, but Bos and Thureen write them so fully and the actors embrace them so fervently (and in the case of Michael Cyril Creighton’s fine Morty, so sweatily) that no trace of disdain remains.

Plotting has never been the company’s strong suit, nor is it here, though another draft would more closely integrate Ira’s tented maunderings with the grown-up jollity, better preparing us for the supernatural tenor of the end. Mysterious forces are at work here, stranger even than the ingredient list of a Ra-Pu-Pu sour. Yet as the play intriguingly suggests, the worlds of parents and children may, to outsiders anyway, seem the most cryptic and arcane stuff imaginable. In the midst of her peculiar party, a tipsy Bev asks, “Isn’t this a little swell?” Sure it is, Bev. Fix us another round.