Theater: 'Blood Moon', Of Crime and Revenge

By Mel Gussow / January 14, 1983
Blood Moon/The New York Times
NICHOLAS KAZAN'S ''Blood Moon'' is a chilling Jacobean revenger's tale written from the perspective of a modern sensibility. Dealing with a young woman's savage act of reprisal against her rapist, it plays fair with its characters and their motivations, and is consistent with its own eye-for-an-eye code of morality. The play opens the season for the Production Company in its new home on West 28th Street.

The playwright uses theatrical contrivances, but in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock he leads the audience to suspend its disbelief. The events of ''Blood Moon'' may seem improbable, but the play is suffused with a feeling of menacing reality. It is only after the fact that one begins to subject the work to a credibility test - and Mr. Kazan has ingeniously covered his tracks.

The evening is made doubly effective by Allen R. Belknap's taut production, featuring a three-person cast of skillful verisimilitude: Dana Delany as an innocent pre-med student, and David Canary and Nicholas Saunders as the men who victimize her.

The mystery begins in Mr. Canary's apartment, a high-gloss set designed by Michael Hotopp and Paul dePass, convincingly a private chamber of horrors for the host's favorite game of get-the-guest. To enter or to leave the lair, one must play the proper sequence of musical notes on the door chimes - exceedingly difficult when trying to escape.

Mr. Canary's guests are an old friend and debtor, Mr. Saunders, and the friend's nubile niece, Miss Delany. Initially, the dialogue is urbane. But the host's apparent congeniality soon curdles; he is gradually revealed as a cynical manipulator of other people's emotions. He is a contemporary urban equivalent of the title character in John Fowles's ''Magus,'' a charismatic charlatan who, by his own measure, never loses a match.

The impressionable Miss Delany is alternately tantalized and suspicious, but even as the audience senses that she is in jeopardy, she allows herself to fall under Mr. Canary's spell. The first act, titled ''Moon,'' demonstrates the extent of the host's obsession. The second act, ''Blood,'' charts the depths of his victim's vengeance.

Because this is a mystery, the audience is requested not to reveal the outcome, but there are enough clues so that the twist need not come as a complete surprise. However, it is still shocking, and at the performance I attended, as the play reached its gruesome climax, several voices in the audience cried, ''Oh, no!'' It should be explained, however, that in the guise of a thriller, ''Blood Moon'' has some interesting things to say about the human capacity for curiosity and for self-delusion. Up to a point, each of the three characters seems eager to be fooled.

Under Mr. Belknap's direction, the actors approach Mr. Kazan as if he were Harold Pinter, surrounding the play with an air of heightened expectancy. Mr. Canary is both sinister and seductive. By profession, his character is a ''middle man,'' who buys cheaply and sells at the highest price. He extracts - and imparts - others' secrets while never revealing anything about himself.

As the uncle, Mr. Saunders is a cheerful avuncular figure, encouraging a conversation even as it enters turbulent waters. He never loses his aplomb until he is confronted with the full measure of his own complicity in evil.

Both actors artfully underplay their cards of identity, and so does the enticing Miss Delany. But she has two roles to play, and she does them both with authority. In the first act she is a forthright innocent caught up by her desire for experience. In the second act, she has learned a lesson by ordeal and, with black humor, she embarks on a course of cold-blooded retribution.

The play has its rough edges. The story is framed as a confessional, which means that Miss Delany has to step awkwardly in and out of scenes and to address the audience. The device might work effectively as narration in a film, but on stage it can be intrusive. It does, however, allow for the heroine to suggest that her behavior could be considered psychopathic. Wisely, the playwright attempts to explain but not to justify her act. ''Blood Moon'' covers territory related to that in ''Extremities,'' but in contrast to William Mastrosimone's melodramatic effort, it is cleanly and clearly plotted right up to its haunting conclusion.
Credit to The New York Times.