It might be the goriest interpretation of Aristotle yet. As the narrator, Brother Blood, explains the healing power of performance through catharsis (“When done properly, art can be used like surgery to extract the cancer from our collective psyches”), he demonstrates his theory on a poor, seemingly lobotomized victim, pulling out organs and entrails in a flash of blood and wild smiles. The problem with The Blood Brothers Present: PULP, a series of three short plays interwoven with several vignettes, is that there are just too many surgeons around the operating table. With five directors and five playwrights who seem to have differing visions, the show is inconsistent and disorganized. Though it pays homage to 50’s horror comics, its vibe is more thrown-together than throwback.
The series’ flaw is that it fails to devote itself completely to this genre. It’s a shame because when it does dive headfirst into the pulp world, and brings the comic book pages to life, the effect is quite thrilling. The first and last plays, Mac Rogers’s Best Served Cold and James Comtois’s Listening to Reason do a good job, crafting interesting back stories so that there’s suspenseful drama mixed with the gory payoffs. In language, pace, and tone, each feels like a tale from an earlier time. Both, for instance, have a derisive narrator (Brother Blood) whose all-knowing background commentary gives the plays an old-fashioned radio hour feel.
Both stories focus on plausible horrors: a jilted lover who’s come to gun down a homewrecker in Best Served Cold and the inner monologue of a serial killer in Listening to Reason. They also contain the strongest performances, including Anna Kull’s furiously heartbroken avenger in the former and Jessi Gotta’s superbly subtle turn as a disabled victim in the latter.
In a recent interview on NYTHEATRECAST, the show’s creators said that these two pieces were actually adapted from pulp horror comics, while the middle play, Qui Nguyen’s Dead Things Kill Nicely, is an original work. This changeup is quite obvious, as it disrupts the tone and pace set so well by the story that precedes it. Dead Things not only skips the effective narration, but also has a far goofier quality that detracts from any semblance of scary.
Nguyen’s piece has some of the evening’s funniest lines (a debate about the existence of zombies is amusing, thanks to the Grandma Addams-esque Stephanie Cox-Williams) and a fantastically gruesome finish (multiple decapitations! Evil Dead-style chainsaw hands!). However, the play’s refusal to take itself seriously as a story leads to an inability to take itself seriously as a production: with British accents that are distractingly bad and dialogue that often feels like it’s merely filler between jokes or violence, the play is too sloppy to be successful.
On the other hand, PULP’s production team has obviously put a lot of effort into special effects, which they execute exquisitely. All of the stories share a common love of gore, and while the splatter-fest is not quite at the bring-a-poncho level, severed limbs and slit throats abound. Even the most ridiculous cases of slit bowels or skinned backs look impressively realistic.
Another enjoyable aspect of the production is its soundtrack, which includes wonderful original music by Larry Lees as well as surprising offerings from familiar names. From the evil carnival-sounding suite that opens the show, to two wordless vignettes set to perfectly appropriate songs, the music is a delight. One short piece, about a camper who transforms himself into an insect, is told through the comically creepy song “Bugs” by, as I was later amused to learn, Pearl Jam.
With Halloween around the corner, PULP is written for those who crave a good bloodbath each October. But if such audiences are really looking to satisfy their fright fix, they might have better luck finding catharsis at the nearest haunted house.