Blood Rose Rising" is Back in Black (Arts) (4 Stars)

Review by Johnny Plankton

"Blood Rose Rising" a serialized drama presented in repertory at Naga in Central Square, Cambridge through November 18th.

When the supernatural romantic blood feast "Blood Rose Rising", debuted at the Davis Square Theatre last February, I was pretty excited. Here we had something truly different in the theater experience - a serialized multimedia goth thriller that was a throwback to the early days of movies, complete with a live (alt-rock) band and a venue that served drinks! After giving a well-deserved glowing review to the opening segment, "Immaterial Girl", we eagerly awaited the next installment, and were a little disappointed when the next chapter didn't materialize. This fall, at a new venue with an overhauled cast, "Blood Rose" re-introduced audiences to the first installment, and launched its second episode, "Heir of Suspicion" last week. After an initial bit of struggling to remember the plot details from the opener, I sat back while the show again delivered its share of intrigue, supernatural horror, and a lot more comedy than the original.

While the opening episode concentrated more on character development, "Heir" moves the plot along quickly, apparently to set us up for Part III of the series, "Futile Attraction", which premieres this Friday, October 12th. Part I, "Immaterial Girl" introduced us to Robert Blackwood (played alternately by Harry Aspinwall/Michael Fisher), an underachieving but charming adjunct professor at a Stillborne Community College in Cambridge, who inherits a Victorian manse from his estranged and possibly insane father. While revisiting his childhood home, a lot of feelings and other "things" come up, including a centuries-old beautiful ghost, Rose (Poornima Kirby), who needs something from Robert - namely blood and affection, and in that order.

There are, of course, a few complications: Rose needs blood to come to life and stay that way, (which Robert and a few unfortunates arrange); and Robert already has a 3-D girlfriend, the beautiful, savvy and driven Olivia Barlow (a role shared by Erin Brehm/Dakota Shepherd) whom we discover is mounting a campaign for the U.S. Congress. In the second episode, we find that Olivia is getting a little concerned with Robert's increasingly erratic and deceitful behavior, and she is being drawn in deeper on two fronts, both earthly and supernatural; Robert is being pestered by a creepy (and campy) vaguely European couple, the Urbeutels (played by Lynn Guerra and Jeff Marcus/Victor Shopov) who seem to know quite a bit about Robert's genealogy and his father's body of work; both Robert and his life are becoming increasingly insane as he deals with blackmail by sleazy bartender Elliot Fogg following a botched robbery turned murder attempt; and Robert seeks the help of his multi-talented student Sharon (Guerra), who is being ardently pursued by dim-witted fellow student Bud (Robert DeMarco).

While the blood and body count drops significantly in Episode II, there is still a nice dose of truly scary horror in this production, as befits the Halloween season. Rose is still a very needy woman, in more ways than one. There also seems to be a stronger comic influence in this episode, which may be the result of Harry Aspinwall's portrayal of Professor Blackwood as a highly (though understandably) nervous type, which kind of reminded me of the original Darren Stevens from the 1960's "Bewitched" sitcom. The plot also adds a kind of sitcom-style device towards the end of "Heir" which isn't particularly satisfying, so we'll see what happens in the next installment.

The change in venue to Naga in Central Square is a big plus for the production, both in layout and sound quality. The show is staged in the nightclub section of the restaurant in the back. While Davis Square Theatre is fine for standup comedy and traditional theatre, this space lends itself beautifully to the multimedia aspects of the show with a long, high quality screen and several others helping to illustrate plot details, like news broadcasts and the writing on the pages of the Blackwood's black magic journals. Many of the original cast members return, including the excellent Calvin Braxton as Parker Snode, Olivia's mentor and friend; Kirby as Rose, who in addition to being a terrific physical actor as the ghost, gives us a taste of her ability as a human actor in a cosmic flashback; and the lovely Dakota Shepherd, who originated the role of Olivia Barlow, is slated to return to the production October 26th, after she wraps up her stint in "A Bright New Boise" (currently playing at the BCA and reviewed last week by BEI).

The three episodes are scheduled to run continually until November 18th, and while the episodes stand on their own, I would suggest seeing them in order. It's a great way to spend the Halloween season, for those of us who see the holiday as a month of fun.

For more, see www.bloodroserising.com