Indian Blood Reviewed

A.R Gurney’s play Indian Blood is one big ball of nostalgia, though I’m not sure it is entirely merited. The gentle play, seen at Primary Stages, takes place in Buffalo, New York, following the second world war. Then the city was the 13th largest in the country, and its residents were enjoying an industrial boom, particularly the family of Eddie (Charles Socarides). Blood chronicles a few days around Christmastime in the lives of the family members, but Gurney’s ideas of these events may have been greatly exaggerated in his own mind.

Evoking Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs and Woody Allen’s film Radio Days, Blood refers to Eddie’s excuse for the more mischievous side of his behavior; according to his grandfather, Eddie has a Native American ancestor. When Eddie draws a crude sexual picture in class, he gets in trouble when his own cousin, and competitor, Lambert (Jeremy Blackman) tells on him.  Eddie initially lies to his overbearing grandparents (Pamela Payton-Wright and John McMartin) about his deed, and so the tension of Blood — admittedly, not much escalates as he audience waits to see what happens when the truth comes out.

Blood is very small in scope, and it is minimalist in physical structure as well. The actors pantomime props, and in some cases, characters are spoken to but not seen onstage to keep the ensemble small. The latter choice is a bit distracting; why not have all characters be seen? Nothing is accomplished by such sleight of hand.

McMartin is terrific, and steals his several scenes, but he has the best role as the type of grandfather every teenage boy would like to have. Socarides makes for a strong narrator, and Jack Gilpin and Rebecca Luker (one of the greatest voices to regularly grace the Broadway stage these days) are terrific as Harvey and Jane, Eddie’s parents. Gurney’s subplot involves their estranged relationship due to Harvey’s constant concessions to his mother; at one point Jane mentions she has thought of leaving Harvey, but that statement is dismissed. I cannot help but feel their story would have made for a far more powerful play.

As it is, Blood makes a big deal about this moment in Eddie’s life, but it doesn’t seem to have fundamentally changed his world one way or the other. Eddie laments how things have changed, but while Gurney crates some sweet moment, he never leaves us wishing for the way things were.

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