May 21, 2019

In ‘Bride of Blood’ Play, Solomon Consults Otherworldly Forces

(L-R) Miles Taber as Jeremiah and Steven Schub as King Solomon. Photos by Thomas Hargis

A wise man once said, “To pray to a manifestation of God is to misdirect the source of its manifestation. It is to think a ship’s mast is the wind beneath a ship’s sail.”

Those words actually came from King Solomon of the 10th century B.C.E., a man generally thought to be the very personification of wisdom. We’re talking wise with a capital “W.”

And, in fact, the Solomon who uttered that phrase is a character in Amit Itelman’s play “Bride of Blood,” which had its world premiere at the Skylight Theatre on Oct. 25 and runs through Nov. 8. 

Despite a title that may suggest a B-movie splatter-fest and a performance run that overlaps Halloween, “Bride of Blood” is a religious parable. The evening has the hubristic Solomon seeking to become not just the wisest king in the world, but the wisest man, as well. As he tackles the perplexities of Exodus 4:24 (the passage that has God considering killing Moses, and has Moses’ wife, Zipporah, referring to a “Bridegroom of Blood”), Solomon consults otherworldly forces in an effort to learn some canonical truths. Monsters enter the picture, blood is shed and major mayhem ensues.

Coming as he does from the French theatrical tradition of Grand Guignol — a style of theater which frequently employs blood-soaked climaxes — writer-director Itelman said that the blending of theology and gore sits firmly in his wheelhouse. 

“Staging horror is one of my favorite things to do in life, and it comes naturally to me,” he said. “A lot of Judaica is phantasmagorical, and I’m gravitating toward what is interesting to me. There will be comedy. There will be puppets and monsters and hopefully it will be engaging and dramatic.” 

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Itelman is a writer, director, producer and musician who has worked in film and TV as well as live theater. During his tenure as the founding artistic director of the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood, Itelman oversaw an eclectic mix of programming from the Kids in the Hall reunion to “Re-Animator: The Musical” as well as performances by Emo Philips, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Max Maven and Ann Magnuson. Itelman eventually founded the theater-making nonprofit Trepany House, which is still operational despite the Steve Allen Theater’s shuttering in 2017. 

Larose Washington as Zipporah

The project that became “Bride of Blood” was a long-gestating idea that began with Itelman considering doing a Grand Guignol treatment of biblical stories and ended up leading him on a wisdom quest of his own. Itelman became fascinated with the Dead Sea Scrolls and studied with the Scrolls’ curator Adolfo Roitman at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

A lot of Judaica is phantasmagorical. There will be comedy. There will be puppets and monsters and hopefully it will be engaging and dramatic.”

— Amit Itelman

“The good thing about the Scrolls is that they are fragmented, sometimes just a sentence that’s part of a larger text,” Itelman said. “The good thing about that for me is that it made me want to gain even more biblical and canonical knowledge in order for me to understand the puzzle of the Dead Sea Scrolls. That led me to educate myself and that led me to the Apocrypha. 

“One of the things Adolfo told me as we were looking at different biblical passages that I found fascinating is that ‘Every passage is a symphony and every musician is a perspective of the passage and they all work together,’” Itelman continued. “And as he started leading me into thinking of interpretation as an act of humility, the more I accepted I don’t understand, the more insight I can gain.” 

And if that last sentence sounds positively Solomonic, well it should. According to Itelman, the Exodus passage is a good exemplar of the need for humility. He began thinking about some of the wisest Jews and then crafted a tale around what would happen if one of the wisest figures of Jewish lore tackled the problem in a Faustian way. 

Virginia Rand as Queen Amytis and Edward Buchanan as Nebuchadnezzar

“I’m not a rabbi. I’m not an academic,” said Itelman, who set up a Gofundme campaign for the project in 2016. “I’m a dramatist who wanted to tell a good story. So I gave myself permission to make the best story I could, using allegory as a tool.”

Aiding Itelman on this journey was FX artist Frederick Fraleigh, who has worked as a fabricator of specialized costumes and figures for movies such as “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Hellboy 2,” “Bicentennial Man” and the live touring show “Jurassic World.” A mutual friend suggested that Itelman could use some help bringing the creatures of “Bride of Blood” to life, and Fraleigh, although swamped with other projects, agreed to meet with Itelman. 

After seeing Itelman’s drawings of the creatures of “Bride of Blood,” Fraleigh knew he needed to join the project. He ended up designing the costume for the demon Asmodeus, the play’s central “badass.”  

“Amit was just so passionate and excited about everything, I just had to do it,” Fraleigh said. “I wish I could have done more.”

“Bride of Blood” is on at the Skylight Theatre, 1816 Vermont Ave., Hollywood. (800-504-4849).