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Stage Review: Bride of Blood mixes Old Testament theology with Grand Guignol theatrics

Amit Itelman’s quirky play retells the story of King Solomon as a fantasy spiced with demons, a splash of gore – and legitimate spiritual inquiry.

The words “Bride of Blood” suggest a gore-tinged horror show; though the title is not, strictly speaking, misleading, neither is it fully descriptive. Amit Itelman’s 2018 play, currently enjoying a revival run at Titmouse Warehouse in Hollywood, is a weird and wonderful combination of horror, fantasy, and time travel, which combines the Old Testament and the Apocrypha to tell the story of King Solomon seeking answers to theological mysteries even if his quest for enlightenment brings him into conflict with God’s Law. Presented by the non-profit Trepany House (whose previous work includes Nevermore, starring Jeffrey Combs as Poe), Bride of Blood is so far out – including monsters portrayed by actors wearing Muppet-like life-sized costumes – that it is hard to find a point of comparison, but imagine Darren Aranofsky’s 2014 film, Noah, which transformed the Biblical account of the flood into a steampunk fantasy with giant rock monsters looking like something out of Lord of the Rings.


Bride of Blood Review: Quest for Wisdom
Bride of Blood Review
King Solomon (Davey Johnson) wrestles with the enigma of Exodus 4:24

In the Old Testament, Solomon is noted for his wisdom. (He is most famous for the “Judgment of Solomon” story, in which he resolved a dispute between two women claiming to be the mother of a child by offering to cut the baby in half: the false mother was eager to accept the compromise, but the real mother offered to surrender the child rather than have it bisected, so Solomon gave the child to her.) However, in the expanded universe of apocryphal works like Testament of Solomon (what Religion for Breakfast‘s Dr. Andrew M. Henry would call Biblical “fan fiction”), Solomon is more of a magician granted the power to command a legion of demons. Bride of Blood leans fairly heavily into this aspect of the character, lending a slightly Faustian air to the character.

In a nutshell, Bride of Blood follows King Solomon (Davey Johnson) as he wrestles with the enigma of Exodus 4:24, in which God seems on the verge of killing Moses until his wife performs an impromptu circumcision on their son and throws the foreskin at his feet, proclaiming, “Surely, you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” Part of the problem with the text is what Cinema Sins likes to call “The Pronoun Game,” which leaves readers uncertain to whom the words “he” and “his” refer: God, Moses, or maybe even the circumcised son. Is God really planning to kill the prophet he has sent on a mission to rescue the Jews from Egypt? Is the point that even a prophet like Moses is not above God’s law and must therefore circumcise his children?

Bride of Blood play
Nebuchadnezzar (Aaron Kee) and Asmodeus (Tom Ballatore)

In order to ferret out answers to these questions, Solomon goes on a quest for knowledge which gradually expands to question the quest itself: what is the wisdom of seeking wisdom if it is motivated by hubris? In the process, Solomon seeks answers from Wisdom personified in the Temple when forbidden to do so, summons the demon Asmodeus, and gets an unpleasant glimpse of a future resulting from his dalliance with the Queen of Sheba. Eventually, his quest grants him a certain level of understanding and maybe even a little humility, and if that sounds rather dry and academic, rest assured that the outrageous climax involves what can only be described as “Chekov’s Circumcision.”


Bride of Blood Review: Conclusion
Bride of Blood
Kathleen MacDonald as Wisdom

As with previous Trepany House presentations, Bride of Blood is a modest production but nonetheless impressive, with engaging performances, atmospheric lighting and sound, great costumes, and some impressively surreal monsters. These elements combine to achieve the high-wire balancing act which is the basis of the play’s quirky appeal: on the one hand, the matter-of-fact discussion of vexing theological issues elicits deliberate laughter; on the other hand, the laughter never diminishes the weight of issues themselves, the understanding of which becomes necessary in order for Solomon to avert disaster. In a way, the tone is not unlike a YouTube video essay, in which humor is utilized to engage interest in otherwise convoluted philosophical/theological topics.

Bride of Blood may not be to everyone’s taste; despite its esoteric subject matter, however, its appeal is surprisingly broad. A passing familiarity with King Solomon’s depiction in the Apocrypha will certainly facilitate an easy understanding of the play’s subject matter and phantasmagorial approach, but ultimately the thematic ideas are explored in a way that is intelligible to the uninitiated, and the story works as a drama regardless of one’s religious beliefs or lack thereof. And even if it is not quite the Grand Guignol horror-show promised by the title, Bride of Blood delivers a grizzly over-the-top climax worthy of a previous Trepany House production, Reanimator: The Musical.

Bride of Blood (2024 production)
3

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Bride of Blood poster
Poster artwork by R. Crumb

In Bride of Blood, the incongruous combo of Old Testament characters and Grand Guignol theatrics provokes deliberate laughter without undermining the spiritual inquiry at the heart of the story. It is weird enough to be taken as cult or camp, but it is also legitimately engaging.

Cast: Tom Ballatore as Asmodeus, Galen Howard as Jeremiah, Davey Johnson as Solomon, Aaron Kee as Nebuchadnezzar, Kathleen MacDonald as Wisdom, Lalea Neiviller as the Maiden, and Rediet Worku as the Queen of Sheba/Zipporah. Puppeteers: Josie Oriana & Amit Itelman.

Crew: Writer-Director: Amit Itelman. Composer: Graham Reynolds. Sound Design, Arranger, Live Music: Hans Fjellestad. Tech Director: Dominik Krzanoski. Scenic design by Gina Farina and Paul Wee. Costume Design by Virginia Dan, featuring antique Odd Fellow ritual costumes restored by Josie Oriana. Folkloric Consultant: Adolfo Roitman, Ph.D. (curator of the Dead Seas Scrolls and head of the Shrine of the Book at Israel Museum). Creatures based on the designs by Amit Itelman. Made by Fred Fraleigh. David Brooke, Andy Chavez, Kayla Chavez, Hunter Jackson, Dominik Krzanoski, Robert Miller, Jeff Small and Will Morgan.

Bride of Blood continues at the Titmouse Warehouse with performances at 8pm on Saturday nights through March 30 Update: the play’s run has been extended through April 20; the final show will be followed by a live performance from The Phantom Rodeo. The address is 1121 Seward Street in Los Angeles. Tickets are $25 (except for final show: $39). Email info@trepanyhouse.org for more information, or purchase tickets here.

Bride of Blood Review: Additional Photographs

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Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.