WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Debate Society's "Blood Play," currently on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, starts out in a very familiar place - a 1950s-era basement, complete with a bar, leaking pipes and plenty of knotted-wood paneling. Where it ends up, however, is left much to the imagination of the viewer.
Set in suburban Chicago, viewers are introduced to Bev and Morty, played by The Debate Society's Hannah Bos and Michael Cyril Creighton. Eager to fit in to their new neighborhood, the pair prepare for Bev's luncheon to be held the next day. Bev is eager to impress the local women's group at her synagogue.
Soon they are interrupted by a traveling photographer, Jeep (Paul Thureen), and neighbor Sam (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey), after Jeep accidentally runs into Sam with his car.
Meanwhile, Bev and Morty's son, Ira (Emma Galvin), camps in the backyard, apparently too sick to go on a scheduled Junior Cherokee outing with the other local boys.
Without a doubt, the show answers the question, "What do the adults do when the kids are away?"
Crazy cocktails and silly basement games seem to be the answer.
But something else is stirring just below the surface of the seemingly typical ‘50s family.
At first, the scene breaks to Ira are frightening - a crash of thunder, eerie lighting on the backyard scene and Ira talking to .
This is in stark contrast to his parents, who are eager to please and fit in. Morty seems to have no trouble, and Bev falls over herself to make the neighborhood "Queen Bee," Gail (Birgit Huppuch) bring her into the fold. Gail does, and this leads to a chilling realization as to the true reason that Ira did not go off to camp with the local boys.
And who is Ira talking to?
At first the blackout breaks to the miniature tent and backyard can be a little confusing, but they present a sharp contrast to the endless fun that is going on in the parents' basement. And again, who exactly is Ira talking to?
The play, named one of the Top 10 Plays of 2012 by New York Magazine, ends on a decidedly sinister note - in the vein of Stephen King - yet still up for interpretation.
Written by The Debate Society's Bos and Thureen, and directed by TDS's Oliver Butler, the show explores the almost double life of many families of the era - the desire to keep all of life's unpleasantness below the surface and only put on a glowing facade for all to see. But be forewarned, as this isn't a light night at the theater, as much as the basement antics might suggest.
And it's fair to say that Artistic Director Jenny Gersten thought outside the box bringing this to the Festival.
"While WTF is steeped in tradition, our legacy really began by bringing young actors and directors up to the Festival to try daring work - ‘Blood Play' is part of this continuum," Gersten said. "As a festival, we believe that presenting new theatrical voices is very much a part of our mission. The Debate Society is a group of young artists who are creating work that has one foot set in the mainstream theatrical tradition and the other foot squarely in the avant-garde. The result is a wonderful, quirky, unexpected evening of theatre."
It must be said that I, for one, wasn't sure what to make of the show at first. The jumps between the drunker-by-the-moment party and the angry Ira can be sudden and complex. After much thought, however, it was a thoroughly poignant look back at post-war culture in 1950s America.
Scene design by Laura Jellinek and costumes by Sydney Maresca brought the kitsch of 1950s suburban living to life. Jellinek's shift at the end added to the complexity, with the ground under Ira's tent breathing.
The show will captivate you, and have you guessing until the final curtain, and it will grow on you - I haven't stopped thinking about the show since I walked out of the theater.
Initially, I wanted a little more of a concrete resolution - Ira infers what is to happen to the Junior Cherokee campers - but looking back, I don't think I want that now. A light went on, and I finally got it.
With only a handful of performances left, "Blood Play" runs to Aug. 18. Don't miss it.
For tickets: wtfestival.org.