By Paul Love
“Blood Money” was written in the late 1990s by Neil, Lea, and John Heather — known in the theatre world as the Heather Brothers. The play is a modern-day comedy-thriller with a few twists thrown in. Before launching into my review of Verve’s Canadian premiere of “Blood Money”, I feel it needs to be said that the play itself is definitely not without its flaws. There are character transitions that seem too forced and abrupt in places, choices by characters that don’t seem to make sense, and the ending feels a bit sudden.
Having said all that, it is my belief that the review of a theatrical production should be based not on the quality of the source material, but on how well the cast and crew worked with the material they were given. And in the case of this cast and crew, they rose above the material, presenting a show that seemed to keep its audience entertained.
The play is about a womanizing celebrity game show host, Mike Mason (Aaron Sidenberg), whose relationship with his wife, Liz (Kendra West), has been crumbling for years, mainly because of a horrible, life-changing incident in their past that they’ve tried to keep buried. Seven years later, that incident seems to be coming back to haunt them.
Mr. Sidenberg plays Mike effectively, with a nice mix of charisma, charm, and a thin veneer of lechery. You always get a sense that nobody in his life really knows the real Mike.
Ms. West’s turn as Liz is most powerful in the character’s smaller, quieter moments. Sure, the arguments between Liz and Mike are fine, but it’s in her more inward moments that we see the hurting soul beneath the bluster. Ms. West plays drunk with a convincing subtlety — a feat some Hollywood actors have yet to master — which is so important because instead of making the drinking seem like a laughable personality quirk, she gives a sense of Liz’s drinking as a means of drowning out her inner demons.
Alanna Stewart plays Sue, Mike’s neighbour and affair of the moment, with a naïve but definitely not innocent effervescence that contrasts Mike’s smarm perfectly. If only the Heather Brothers had given her more to do. I am not able to mention her best moment for fear of giving away too much; suffice it to say that she plays terror well.
Dr. Campbell, Liz’s therapist, is a complex character. Christine Fraser plays her as a woman with passion and drive, and an enigmatic mixture of moods. It was in her character’s more relaxed scenes that I found it hard to make out some of her lines. However, it is in one particular monologue (the spoilery details of which I cannot divulge) where her performance shined its brightest.
Director Vicki Tompkins moved the cast about the stage naturally, matching the blocking with the technical aspects of the show well. Speaking of which, special acknowledgement must be given for how the complex technical side of this show was handled. Stage Manager (and Effects Designer) Sidnei Auler, ASM Jane Hickey, Sound Operator Linda Brent, Stage Hand Avery Ierullo, and whoever was working the lights deserve kudos for putting on a technical show that was as tight as a drum — and that’s no small feat in a production with so many intricately timed effects.
“Blood Money” has only two remaining performances — November 8th and 9th at the Newmarket Old Town Hall, 460 Botsford St. Both shows are at 8 pm. Tickets are available at the door or visit www.verve-theatre-company.com.