Sex finds itself in the spotlight of The Pit. Will You Taste Our Blood, written by Katie Clarke and directed by Clarke and Adrianna Vanos, is a bubbling concoction. The play combines elements of the Greek tragedy The Bacchae with contemporary issues of sex, consent, and social anxiety. It stars Alex Retzer as Mae (a play on the Maenads, worshippers of Dionysus), Jessica Hannaford as Clark, and Ben Burchell as Patrick.
The story centers around the trio as they shuffle awkwardly between support and disapproval of each other’s intimate endeavours. Looming in the background, however, is the chorus, demonizing sex and crying for chastity. As Mae attempts to explore her sexuality and indulge in relationships, the screeching chorus cloaked in black cloth and red light grips her both literally and metaphorically, displaying the arresting and unforgiving nature of social anxiety in relation to sex.
Retzer steals the spotlight in every moment that she is on stage. She seems to have mastered the tortured facial expression, her eyes filled with fear and panic as the chorus surrounds her. In one scene, she pulls at her skin and begs to be freed from it. For me, this is perhaps the most uncomfortable moment in the entire play. Retzer’s skin turns red from her vicious clawing, her eyes begin to water, her voice falters and breaks. It is both heartbreaking and horrifying.
Clarke takes a quasi-Pulp Fiction approach to storytelling. There are frequent chronological interruptions to the plot, a sort of implied whip pan to a vignette of a distant memory, one that displays the miseducation of sex. Writing questions about sex on scraps of paper for the teacher to read aloud, watching R rated films with suggestive themes at a sleepover. Fragments of innocence in which sex is an exciting adventure and not a daunting and frightening endeavour.
The actors that make up the chorus are crucial here. Eddie Cuevas, James Ersil, Hal Rotman, Tessa Hill, Kaija Jussinoja, and Gaby Milner all play multiple roles, some filling the shoes of numerous unnamed teens in a myriad of mildly uncomfortable scenarios. Some chorus members had more lines than lead cast members. I commend all of them for their dedicated performances.
Ben Burchell feels a tad underused. His character is an excellent take on the issues surrounding male sexuality. The addressing of many of these issues comes courtesy of chorus member Cuevas, who took steps to ensure Clarke would have the male perspective. The result is a characterization that is ambiguous. We never learn if they commit the crimes that they are accused of; we are simply offered a photograph of a very real issue, and the emotions we feel from seeing such a photo tells us what we need to know.
Despite the tightrope tension over the heavy themes of sexuality, the play is surprisingly funny. The fumbled thoughts and abundance of ellipsis left dangling from the actors’ mouths are relatable to any and all who survived the horror-thriller that is adolescence. Giggles and gasps alike escaped the lips of the crowd in small bursts, if only to be met with four straight fingers pressed against those lips moments later.
The highest honour that I can bestow upon Will You Taste Our Blood is saying that it is my favourite play I have seen in The Pit. It’s not much, given that I have only seen a total of five, but I hope it means something to everyone involved. The harrowing and striking tale is handled with delicacy, showing just how much more of a story takes place beyond its characters. I hope to see more work from Clarke in the near future.