Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“Like Blood From a Cheap Cigar is a personal glimpse inside the intense, damaged relationship between George, a past-his-prime bad boy and Margo, his pretty, significantly younger girlfriend who’s been driven to the brink of insanity by her irrational love for him.”
There are plenty of plays out there about destructive relationships – between all sorts of people. Dramatists have found this to be rich territory but there’s something about the American psyche – and idiom – that serves the subject well. One immediately thinks of Tennessee Williams “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Arthur Miller’s “Death Of A Salesman” and latterly the works of David Mamet or Sam Shepherd.
In “Like Blood From A Cheap Cigar”, playwright and actor Genevieve Joy takes a fairly straightforward situation – a girl who just can’t let go of the boy who has “trouble” written in capital letters on his forehead – and puts it under the microscope. This is “fly-on-the-wall” reportage, with developments being presented to the audience without us being asked to form an opinion or make a judgement. We simply observe and in terms of the performers the work is honest and credible.
Joy’s Margo is in love/lust with George (Joseph D. Reitman) and when he turns up outside her apartment late at night demanding to be let in, we all know this isn’t going to end well.
What follows is the unpicking of the relationship, from its rather more hopeful beginnings (revealed through a flashback). The two actors have a close and fiery chemistry, dialogue is rapid and often they slightly overlap or pick up their text in a way that sounds freshly-minted, perhaps partly improvised. George thinks he’s God’s gift, snorting cocaine, drinking wine and he’s basically after one thing – rekindling his failed romance with Margo after coming off the rails with her neighbour. He’ll take what he can get, including a sly $5 bill from Margo’s nearly empty purse. Margo loves him, but not in a good way. She’s got her own problems with the bottle and her erratic behaviour sees her slashing the tyres on George’s car when it’s been left in her neighbour’s driveway with him on active duty. We understand that Margo is doing stand-up, but it doesn’t sound like she’s going to be playing Vegas anytime soon. Two dysfunctional people, who kind of function together, in a slightly cracked modern morality tale? Maybe.
So, what happens? Well, not much. It’s very much a behavioural piece. Some of the acting is very fine, with crackling sexual tension. However there’s no story here, beyond a very sketchy outlining of how these two people come to be in this room together. It’s played out almost as if the audience is a voyeur, peeking through a one way mirror into Margo’s poky bedroom.
Arthur Kopit, the American playwright, used to have a couple of golden rules for writing – what is your story – and why should we be interested? Joy’s script allows the performers to react very naturalistically to each other and there are some nice moments – funny, tense and whimsical. Essentially though, the story is just a snapshot of a relationship, a real-time video. When we revisit the start of the relationship, the spruced-up, combed-hair version of George gives us a clue as to why pretty, vulnerable Margo might fall for him in the first place, but George is like a clumsy puppy in a suicide vest – why would she stay with him?
The performances make this an interesting and engaging piece and the lack of a story might not concern some people at all. Margo is sad without George. George lies about his age and would sell his grandmother for another hit of coke. George will kiss Margo and tell her it’ll all be okay – and Margo will believe him. Perhaps there are worse fates in America these days. I enjoyed the performances very much in terms of their freshness and vitality and Joy and Reitman revel in the down-and-dirty grittiness. For me, however, these characters would benefit enormously from a better storyline – and a deeper exploration of their co-dependancy.