Plays involving religion often have a defined point of view that can make them predictable and boring. Yet nothing is predictable or boring about Helen Pafumi’s world premiere Redder Blood, an intelligent and funny rumination on interfaith relationships and our relationship with God.
Redder Blood revolves around Sadie (Jenna Sokolowski), a late twenties physical therapist struggling with both family and romantic complications. Physical therapy is an appropriate avocation for Sadie since she has always taken on the healing role of family fixer. That role has become increasingly difficult since her father Sahm (Michael Kramer) has started experimenting with a series of new religious faiths in an effort to seek forgiveness for his adultery.
Sahm has most recently settled on Islam, which causes some difficulties with his wife Ada (Vanessa Bradchulis), an Israeli Jew. The religious complications are less troublesome to Sadie’s brother Aaron (Carlos Saldana), a hip young rabbi who enjoys talking with his outspoken sister as well as dating a series of healthy young shiksa women.
More damaged by the situation is the family’s youngest child Sarah (Megan Graves), a teenager who responds by acting out in funny ways. She enjoys gaining attention with antics such as cutting the home’s lights until an explicit term for a certain sex act is shouted out. [Warning: adult language throughout the play.]
As if Sarah’s family situation weren’t challenging enough, God (Dawn Ursula) speaks directly to Sadie. One piece of advice from God is that the romantically challenged Sadie give love a chance with blind date Spencer (Jonathan Feuer), who brings an additional religious flavor to this mélange of faiths and perspectives.
Redder Blood has many charms and works on many levels. Sadie is a complicated and interested character. Jenna Sokolowski pulls off the difficult balancing act of being endearing while at the same time being so blunt you understand why her family is so shocked to hear that she’s managed to find a man willing to date her.
The entire family dynamic is entertaining. It slowly evolves from a more traditional sitcom style to a more serious drama about the personal and religious complications between Sahm and Ada. The play tackles their difficulties in an honest and thoughtful manner.
closes July 31, 2016
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Similarly the developing relationship between Sadie and Spencer also feels right. It is charming and awkward at the same time as they navigate the challenges of romantic attraction and faith-based discussions. It is a romance that the audience roots for and hopes will survive the inquisition that awaits when Spencer is invited to meet the family at a Shabbat dinner.
Dawn Ursula is an absolute hoot as the off-stage voice of God. She is funny and sassy, capable of laughing at her own bad jokes while also congratulating herself for being “so damned poetic.” In her more serious moments, she tries to nudge Sadie in the right direction toward self-understanding and acceptance in a loving fashion.
The story finds effective ways to communicate the sense of God (including the artful use of interesting projections). The lighting and sound shifts that cue God’s conversations with Sadie are effective.
If pressed, one could find a few minor quibbles. The teenage daughter Sarah is the least realistic character, but Megan Graves invests her with such spirit and fun that you enjoy her anyway. Spencer’s occupation seems a little unlikely (hint: he would probably be traveling or working on a Friday night). There is one late potential plot turn involving Ada that feels more like a dramatic twist to amp up the drama than a natural possibility, but overall the relationship dynamic of the troubled marriage is uncomfortably on point.
God in this play encourages humans to find the joy in life. The real joy of Redder Blood is its uncanny ability to combine irreverent humor with intelligent and provocative issues of faith. In our contentious world Redder Blood offers the reassuring thought that it is possible for religion to help us accept change and find our place in the world. Few plays achieve such a large objective.
Redder Blood by Helen Murray Pafumi. Directed by Gregg Henry with Assistant Director Ricky Drummond. Scenic Design: Kristen Morgan. Sound Design & Composition: Matthew Nielson. Lighting Design: Ken Willis. Projections Design: Patrick Lord. Costume Design: Jane Fink. Properties Design: Jacy Barber. Technical Director: Jameson Shroyer. Stage Manager: Jenn Carlson with Assistant Stage Manager Curt Gavin. Produced by The Hub Theatre and the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.