Brimming with the naturalness of a contemporary family trying to withstand many a stressor, Redder Blood at The Hub Theatre, is an exceptionally rare tale to witness. Written by local playwright Helen Pafumi, Redder Blood is an uncanny, sharp-eyed, far from heavy-handed, often comic exploration into a multi-faith family’s search for balance and self-worth in their unraveling little world. Oh, and add that one of the family members seems to hear God speak to her in a most mystifying manner. Its a voice not of a deep-toned Supreme Being reciting rigid rules or spiritual pronouncements, but as a personable voice full of ironic wit and sincere admiration for humanity. Redder Blood centers upon a crumbling family.
After about 36 years of marriage, husband and wife are at intense odds; not the least of which centers upon a husband who has converted to Islam and his wife, an Israeli-born Jew. The three children in the family are conflicted grappling with how and what to do to “save” their family. Can anyone fix the mess the family is in? Should anyone ever try? Eldest daughter Sadie even seems to hear the voice of God giving her counselling. Redder Blood has an arc of scenes that move through family events and dinners, a meet cute scene, pitched family verbal battles, and multiple scenes of absolutely spiritual beauty.
What makes Redder Blood relatable is that Director Gregg Henry has cast such an abundantly talented ensemble of local talent who effortlessly presents itself as a family. The Redder Blood cast includes Helen Hayes recipients Dawn Ursula and Jenna Sokolowski, Megan Graves, Vanessa Bradchulis, Michael Kramer, Jonathan Feuer and Carolos Saldana.
The cast comes across not as actors performing at arms-length from one another. They regularly go toe-to-toe with one another, just as in any real-life family. They fight, they love one another and betrayal each other. They are sweet one moment then turn into nasty, negative button-pushers. They can verbally abuse; than reach out to give or receive a soothing hug.
As oldest sister Sadie, Jenna Sokolowski is impressive as the family protector, hoping to somehow stop the family’s disintegration. She is always on-guard; relaxing only when she cries. Her performance is so visually layered visual clues to her emotions especially when she hears to spoken words of God (a never visible Dawn Ursula with a voice and inflections of such honeyed, mellifluous qualities that I wish she was the Rabbi at my synagogue for finally I would understand so much of what I have not over the decades).
Sokolowski (outfitted by costume designer Jane Hosticka Fink) is a frazzled woman, lost in herself who appears to want to hide away from the world within her frayed appearance and drab clothing.
Bradchulis is Ada, an over-bearing perfectionist mother, who can be off-putting in her need to be right and a family martyr. Kramer is Sahm (yes, with an “h”) an over-bearing, self-centered, quick-tempered, yet clearing caring father in search of himself. How does he search? Well through sex with women other than his wife and his religious conversion to Islam.
Saldana is Aaron, is the affable family-pleaser, who has become a muddled Rabbi but with a good heart. Younger sister Sarah is given a bravura performance by Graves who cavorts about the stage with teen-age energy.
Then there is Sadie’s unexpected, new love interest. He is a NY Mets outfielder named Spencer given a mellow, genial shape by Feuer. He makes being of the Presbyterian faith sexy and desirable to the Jewish Sadie.
The Hub production’s design team includes lighting design by Ken Wills, a simple effective set design by Kristen Morgan, nifty projections from Patrick Lord that change from the look of Monet’s Water Lilies, to Van Gogh’s Starry Night, to symbols of many of the world’s faiths to expressive multi-colored orbs. Sound design by Matthew M. Nielson includes pre-show instrumental music with a hopeful appeal and impact.
Giving away the ending of Redder Blood is not in the cards from me. Just know that happiness can come in many guises. And does it matter if Sadie truly hears the voice of God or if she has found a protective spot in her mind as a technique to survive stress? I leave that to each who takes in the Hub production.
I will give my own personal predilection. I personally don’t think that Job was crazy when he argued with the Voice of God that he heard. As for the genesis of the title Redder Blood that is explained (mostly, I would suggest) at a very last moment before the final black-out.
Let me throw out this old Talmudic notion as another explanation; in saving one life we save all lives. Over the course of this smartly developed production, the Redder Blood clan is often enough a joyfully noisy, tight-knit, inter-faith houseful facing tough times together. You can see and feel the love that they have shared. You take in their spiritual nature.
Redder Blood is a well-rendered searching play that wants to embrace us…and succeeds.
Running time: About 95 minutes, with no intermission.
Note: The world premiere of Redder Blood is a co-production with the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.
Note: There are interfaith dialogue after most Sunday matinee performances.