bloodrite (Other He/Arts) 2021 Toronto Fringe Review

A statue in a bloody bathtub.

bloodrite (Other He/Arts) takes on the history of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, one of history’s most notorious serial killers who reportedly enjoyed torturing young girls and drinking their blood in the 1500s. Over the years, Báthory has served as the inspiration for many a vampire tale. Hers was a gruesome and bloody life, one that we often remember with a blurring of history with horror-fantasy (while Báthory was arrested for these crimes, for example, claims that she bathed in blood seem to have been exaggerated). As such, it’s fascinating material for adaptation.

bloodrite takes clever advantage of the digital theatre format by recasting the figure of the Countess into an internet camgirl (Stefne Mercedes). Initially wearing a red dress, holding a red goblet and sitting alone by a bathtub, Báthory speaks to a chatroom, telling her ravenous viewers that “she’ll play if you pay—in blood(coin).”

The chat is filled with typical internet lurkers and some historical figures (such as György Thurzó, who intercepted the real Báthory, appearing in the chat to provoke her with misogynistic preaching) and literary allusions (DorianBlack as a nod to Dorian Gray). As a show, bloodrite doesn’t serve quite as autobiography or history lesson, but rather historical remix—a comment on how and why our histories form the foundation of our present world, and how our preoccupations with youth, sex and violence are not particularly new. Now, they’re just filtered through the digital, bodiless world of the Internet.

The back-and-forth between Báthory and the chat also uses the digital format to mimic the timing and tension of live theatre (kudos to dramaturg Harri Thomas and videographer Sebastian Marzialli for balancing the theatrical elements with the filmic ones so seamlessly). There’s a really interesting tension between the bloodthirsty lust of the chat (“fresh meat!” one user types) and the more literal bloodlust of Báthory. As the show progresses, and strange technical hauntings begin occurring, Báthory’s shows transition between seduction and horror, motivated by her anger and feelings of exploitation. Mercedes’ fluid performance anchors the whole thing, and watching as she transitions from allure to anger, derision to self-pity, is consistently engaging.

The power dynamics are complex here. Báthory’s story is one we often see in narratives of celebrity, where women are used for their bodies and must submit, in one way or another, to an oppressive system in order to survive. Here, however, this narrative is complicated by Báthory’s history as a serial killer, the violence-fetishism of the men who took her down but still attend her shows, and the dehumanization of the chat. By the end of the show, it seems that the seemingly objective eye of history—whether via the history books or the all-seeing eye of the camera—is the ultimate emblem of exploitation and violence.

This is a show that looks at sex appeal and power, two themes that arguably defined the youth-obsessed Countess’ life. It does so through consistently challenging lenses, revealing just how horrific and revulsive those things can make us all. (In short: well worth your time if any of these themes and ideas appeal to you).

Details

  • bloodrite is playing on-demand at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.
  • Purchase a $5 Membership to access the On-Demand programming on the Fringe website, then Pay What You Can to each show as you go with a suggested price of $13 per show.
  • Memberships can be purchased here. View the virtual on-demand show listings here.
  • Accessibility notes:
    • On-Demand shows: videos are closed captioned, transcripts are available for all audio content, documents are screen-reader friendly, and all digital images are provided with alternative text descriptions. These access supplements have been generated by the company and reviewed by the Festival. They may vary slightly from company to company.
    • Fringe Primetime presentations will feature Auto-Transcribed Captioning.
  • Content warning: This performance contains horror imagery including blood, violent and adult language, nudity, and sexual content. Viewer discretion is advised. This show is not recommended for those under 18.

Photo provided by the company.

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