Review: This Blood’s For You

Megan Gray 25 October 2018

★★★★★

This Blood’s For You is set in an American prison in the present-day, well-suggested in this Corpus Playroom production by a completely white stage, and follows Charlie (Sam Tannenbaum), a prisoner on Death Row fast approaching his demise. After meeting the Warden’s young son, Patrick (Mariam Abdel-Razek), it quickly becomes evident there is a separate agenda – Patrick needs an organ transplant, and Charlie matches. What follows is a campaign of clashing moralities – the attempt to convince a man who has lived for his own benefit to prevent another person’s death as he approaches his own.

The ethical dilemmas this evokes are expertly handled. Charlie, played with great care by Tannenbaum, is at once aloof from everyone, sarcastically cheerful and quipping, regardless of whether he’s chatting to a desperate father or a dying teenager, and yet desperately fearful of his approaching doom. This is a vivacious man, blazing with life, but one who knows his time will soon be up, after having survived so long in a world against him. Tannenbaum pulls off this apparent contradiction with mastery. His attitude of defiance is never so poignant as in the opening scene, where Charlie recounts his personal philosophy, ‘the manifesto of the underclass’, spitting out his listed cynicisms: ‘I believe the American Dream is goddamn lie…I believe the goddamn tooth fairy trades ivory for copper, I believe in the hardness of the human heart…’ The recipient of this ‘school of hard knocks’ wisdom is the contrastingly innocent Patrick, played well by Abdel-Razek as a starry-eyed kid trying to keep up with a fascinating criminal. Matters get complicated when they start to become attached – something they can ill afford to do.

The play raises some fascinating questions. Do we owe anybody anything? Justice, organs, a good life, existence itself? Is death ever an appropriate punishment? Determinism comes into play for the latter question, as the nature of Charlie’s crime and his background slowly become apparent, we wonder how much choice he had in his decisions. For a man from a broken home and full of shattered dreams, stumbling into crime seemed inevitable.

Several scenes take place away from Charlie’s cell, in the office of the Governor (), as she debates the ethical issues that inform the play with the Warden () and other aides – capital punishment, forced organ dionation, vengeance. These scenes, however, are somewhat skirted over; some lines, which should have packed a punch, fell ever so slightly flat. It seemed the production was in a rush to maximise Charlie’s stage-time; this was a fair move, given the play rests upon his shoulders, and Tannenbaum has the skill to carry the weight, but the dearth was noticeable. The last moment, especially, ought to have been allowed to rest longer – to make clear the magnitude of the question asked – but it dimmed too soon. Nevertheless, I’d say the play was strong enough to shine even as some sparks were missed in the odd scene.

On the whole, the play was marvellous, thought-provoking and yet still managing to be darkly comic, with plenty of much needed comic relief provided by Charlie, Patrick and, notably the prison’s drunken priest (Ben Vince). The play catches both the horror and the humour in morbid issues, and puts a face to struggles thousands go through. Unsparingly, we peer behind the bars at the condemned – and the condemned peer back at the free.