Review: BLOOD COUNTESS at MAP Theatre

A gothic, devilish romp.

By: Feb. 10, 2024
Review: BLOOD COUNTESS at MAP Theatre
Review: BLOOD COUNTESS at MAP Theatre
Brandon Montgomery Ryan and
Zenaida Rose Smith in
Blood Countess from MAP Theatre.
Photo credit: Truman Buffett

The MAP Theatre gang is back, Dear Readers, and as usual they’re not ones to shy away from the bizarre with their latest offering, “Blood Countess” by Kelleen Conway Blanchard.  This gothic, horror, sex, comedy doesn’t pull any punches.  I just question if it needed all the punches it landed.

Based on a real person from the 1600’s, this fictional account centers on Elizabeth Bathory (Zenaida Rose Smith), a countess who holds the Guinness record as the most prolific female murderer.  With an overbearing mother (Brandon Montgomery Ryan), Elizabeth is an odd girl.  Beyond her obsession with death and dying (sometimes by her own hand) she also has a penchant for (gasp) reading.  Eventually forced to marry the warrior Count Ferenc (Van Lang Pham), her bloodlust only gets stronger.  After the death of her mother and husband, Elizabeth’s only connections to the world are her doting maid Dorkus (Jojo Salamanca), the nosy Father Anselm (Heather Persinger), and the otherworldly deformed imp Fitzco (also Ryan).  Oh, plus there’s that horned demon woman (Jasmine “Jazz” Flora) who keeps visiting her dreams.  All of whom feed into her need for blood to keep her young and beautiful.

Blanchard’s script delightfully leans toward the naughtily gory with constant references to people being sensually impaled.  But those over-the-top quips can only take us so far, and unfortunately, Blanchard tends to beat the joke into the ground before we get to the crux of the story.  That combined with a somewhat unsatisfying ending, and I wonder if she might have done well with some edits.  Even at intermission I found myself commenting to my theater companion that I hope we get to a story soon.  We did, but not until Act Two.  But this is a minor qualm in what was an otherwise deliciously bawdy evening, due in no small part to the direction of Peggy Gannon who certainly knows how to take these strange shows and make them sing.

The ensemble is wonderful, although some felt that they could have used more rehearsal time.  Pham makes for a fantastic counterpart as they both tend toward the same deviant tastes.  Persinger too lent some wonderfully creepy moments as the holy man who’s maybe not so holy.  And Flora takes on multiple roles with seeming ease going from innocent villager to spoiled nobility to sly demon.

Review: BLOOD COUNTESS at MAP Theatre
Jasmine Flora, Brandon Montgomery Ryan,
and Zenaida Rose Smith in
Blood Countess from MAP Theatre.
Photo credit: Truman Buffett

But it was Smith, Ryan, and Salamanca who truly stole the show.  Salamanca’s Dorkus was an ever-present lone force of good for the piece and he nails every moment.  Ryan, as usual, sinks his teeth into both his roles, making them both forces of nature in their own ways.  He always manages to completely immerse himself into any role and take them just up to that line of “too much”.  He may dip his toe over that line but never lingers there which makes his performances so much fun to watch.  And Smith owns the stage, delivering a stunning arc and gravitas to the countess.  She almost makes the despicable acts make sense, at least they do in her twisted mind which she lays bare for the audience with each moment.

Minor qualms with the script aside, this is yet another winner from MAP Theatre.  And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give “Blood Countess” from MAP Theatre a “Bloody fun” YAY-.  They typically only do one show a year and it shows how they throw their all into each one.

“Blood Countess” from MAP Theatre performs at 18th and Union through February 24th.  For tickets for information visit them online at www.map-theatre.com.




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