Review: Blood Offering (alma matters productions)
The ability to identify art that challenges, enlivens, and ultimately enriches the collective imagination is what has set alma matters productions apart since its inception in 2016. This remains the case with the company’s final staged production, Blood Offering, written by Vishesh Abeyratne, a considered meditation on the perils of ideology, youth and grief that never reneges on chances to ramp up the tension, or release it, releasing us into world-weary relief.
The story centres on the aftermath of a school shooting in the U.S. Midwest, where Farid (played by Faraz Farsijani) and his teacher, Mr. Naqvi (played by Suchiththa Wickremesooriya), bond over their shared loss of friend and student, Kayla Gordon.
The pair offers up undeniable chemistry, as if loved ones with long-established expertise in viewing each other’s shortcomings as calls for tenderness. Farid, twice his size with idealism and radicalism, paired with Mr. Naqvi’s Socratic-method brand of reason, guide us through a reconciliation with loss where trust and respect act as universal safety nets. Their connection, stretched by ideological differences, produces industrial-strength tension any writer should be proud to have played a part in materializing.
Farsijani is adept at reminding us of the potential for danger in the certainty of a youthful conviction. Having not yet internalized the regularity of failure and loss, Farid views his own as unique, beyond true understanding by anyone but himself, and I felt his outrage in my bones. With him, we walk the fine line between sustainable self-soothing and the lonely’s susceptibility to extreme action as if we too were 15 again.
Wickremesooriya, a pleasing foil to Farsijani, serves up Mr. Naqvi’s soft-spoken, in-line demeanor as the key to a stable life in society, but one that also forces him to swallow his tongue in the name of safety, generating a festering sense that he is not embodying his authentic self.
When Kayla’s parents, played by Sarah Angelle and Oliver Georgiou, enter the fold with a plan to avenge their daughter’s death, the story takes a bigoted and deadly turn with consistent action-movie-level excitement, while remaining firmly rooted in each character’s subjective struggle to coexist with grief.
Angelle is chilling and calculated in her portrayal of a mother who doesn’t know how to find relief from a child’s absence without causing pain to others. The mammoth, unapproachable scale of the socio-economic issues at the root of her daughter’s demise have left her no other recourse, calls to elected representatives having made no difference to the depth of the pit in her stomach. Mrs. Gordon’s resolution stems from surety that can only emerge from someone at wit’s end, where reason and the comfort of memories no longer hold sway.
Georgiou, for his part, gifts us with comedic relief that dips into the medicinal. Mr. Gordon’s mustache and voice, imbued with the calming blandness of Ned Flanders, simmers down every action that threatens to boil over with the astute precision of a risk manager and the common sense of the dad of all dads. While bloodthirsty as his bride, his insipidness as personality takes the edge off and makes digestible the fact that people who choose ignorance and violence are fallible, complex balls of emotion like the rest of us.
Farsijani and Wickremesooriya, as if in a two-hander all on their own, usher Farid and Mr. Naqvi’s bond to new highs of loyalty and gratitude in a finale that satisfies for how grandly and tidily it ties the play’s major themes together; namely, the inseparability of struggle from fulfillment, and the mixed blessing of being willing to sacrifice your freedom for what you believe in.
Considering that 1) all this delectable complexity of character and genuine thriller vibes rarely, if at all, asks us to suspend disbelief, thanks in no small part to director Jonathan Shaboo‘s intentional use of limited space, and 2) it originated from a workshop performance, scripts in hand, I’m going to go ahead and say that witnessing Blood Offering’s layers unfolding within the vividness of a fully developed production is an experience you should make room for when the opportunity presents itself.
Blood Offering was workshopped at York University’s Fred Thury Studio Theatre.