Screenwriter: Matthieu Bulgo
Death, politics, sex, famine, puppets, identity, metamorphosis, puppets, circuses, musicals, expensive life, immigration, puppets. The Fringe Festival is a lot.
And sometimes the humility of uplifting stories with spectacular visuals and harmonies is precisely the tonic we need to breathe. Where the stakes are not the end of the world, but the harmony of a family – a universally told story of grief, healing and legacy, whether you hate it or love it.
That’s exactly what Matthew Bulgo says blood harmony is. A family-focused story of loss, not just of (the loss of) life, but of the bond of three sisters and their attempt to reforge the most meaningful bonds of which we are capable. After losing their mother, three sisters return to the family home to sort through the house and, more importantly, to find the will. It’s nice to see that the animosity between them is remarkably genuine, and indeed trivial. The melodrama has its place, but there are no meaningful issues between them, just more relatable issues of envy or feeling left behind by another hit.
Where on paper the characterization is thin; the screwed up, the nervous and the one who stays – Leon Allen’s Keshini Misha, Eve and Phillipa Hogg draw such breath and life from their respective characters that they elevate those initial blank slates into full-dimensional women with lives, weaknesses and immense adoration for their family. The one left behind, the youngest, largely left to care for their ailing mother, Leon Allen’s Eve carries an enormous weight in her movements, a bubbling cauldron of emotional turmoil ready to overflow, needing to communicate with her sisters the pain that she feels.
While Hogg and Misha have a bit more fun with their vastly more comedic roles as a successful sister, and “disappointed” couch surfing awaiting life-changing results. Jonnie Riordan and Jess Williams balance character and movement well, blood harmony never feels a drag despite its length, each character has time to grow naturally and, filling in their arc and in turn completing the larger narrative.
So, one has to wonder, we looked at the “harmony” of the family – what about the singing?
Where musicality and score do a duty far greater than the lyrics themselves, the numbers are often word-intense, but there remains a beautiful melody that lives on – especially when paired with the thrilling magic of lighting. by Charlie Dunford. Except for a few standout numbers and the production’s “key” song, which features brief covers throughout. All three actors play well and, without irony, harmonize beautifully in the ensemble numbers. Misha has the most unique solo pieces, with more depth given to his character than his co-stars.
It’s refreshing to watch something where the whole world isn’t at stake. Or designed to right the wrongs of the world. The need for family histories, contained within a single household, is often overlooked, but important. Loss is the major player in her, not just in death but in separation from siblings, fractured bonds we must cling to. blood harmony is a beautiful, touching musical comedy about mourning, but also its sister emotion of inheritance.
An engaging production, which will sing softly to the audience and likely have them leaving with their hands ready to call for relatives, friends and those who may now be strangers.
Playing at the Traverse Theater until August 28, 2002