photo by Richard Termine
There’s Blood at the Wedding uses puppets and “performing objects” to relate the deaths of six innocent Americans killed by police: Philando Castile, Amadou Diallo, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, Justine Damond and Eric Garner. (To be fair, Sandra Bland’s inexplicable death may have been a suicide after she was jailed for not using her directional when she changed lanes.) It’s created, designed and directed by Theodora Skipitares and presented by La MaMa and Skysaver Productions. The conceit is that there is a book for each victim, and we’re presented with large books that open up to present the stories.
There’s a loose frame to the play presenting Federico Garcia Lorca. He opens with the line “Good evening and welcome to the humble theater we call home.” Then he disappears until the end, and this framing device should be developed.
Ms. Skipitares’ mission is simply to bear witness, and to her great credit she rarely accuses, and she never conflates the problem of police killings with other issues. She knows that the problem affects all of us and that the issue is above debate. What’s more, she doesn’t proselytize or agitate. She even tells us that one policeman cried after the shooting.
The play personalized the victims. One passage list the contents of Philando Castile’s car when he was killed: a tourist map of South Dakota, three bags of groceries, tic tacs. And then: “Two bullet shells - That’s all that’s left of a man”. The recitation about Sean Bell repeats “Three cops indicted - Three cops acquitted” as a sort of chant.
Sometimes puppets present the stories, and they’re intriguing. There are large masks that hang from the two actors necks that aren't very nice, but there are full-body puppets that are very graceful. And one has a white mask that’s lit from behind and it’s great. The use of the over-sized books isn’t as interesting, and the puppetry is uneven.
There are songs in the play, with some delicate music by Sxip Shirey. Some are specific to a shooting, but two are free-standing. One is a marvelous spiritual, All Babies Must Cry, that’s sung by full-body puppets. The second is a rap song with obscenities that’s not good at all. Why does Ms. Skipitares include obscenities when up until that point one of the show’s great strengths is its dignity?
Faces are eerily projected on gauze on the back wall, very effectively. One mother of a victim thus seen tells us, in the play’s most profound moment, “I can only forgive when I am asked to forgive.”
Ms. Skipitares is disingenuous in the best sense, and the play’s simplicity is deceptive. She doesn’t generalize about the killings, but at the end of the play Lorca tells us “These stories seem so random, but they follow a pattern.” Then he tells us, cryptically, that when he was executed he was shot in the butt because he was gay.
There’s Blood at the Wedding is a slight play, running only an hour. It’s the rare theater piece that should be expanded. There’s more that the audience would benefit from knowing, that would show the depth and complexity of the problem. Why does Ms. Skipitares keep the police anonymous? For example: Officer Mohamed Noor, the Somali-born policeman who killed Justine Damond, has been charged with murder. He had three complaints against him before the shooting and the prosecutor has said that Minneapolis police were uncooperative in the investigation.