Content warning: subject matter in this review may be difficult for some readers.
Where the Blood Mixes is a play of subtleties.
Mentions of residential schools appear fleetingly, and alcoholism and other symptoms of poverty and trauma rear their ugly heads more than once in Kevin Loring’s Governor General’s Award-winning play. There’s a lot of fishing, too. These things are woven into the fabric of Loring’s text, but they’re never the play’s focal point — they flit by quickly.
What makes Where the Blood Mixes special is how it so delicately paints a portrait of friendship between men; how it so specifically tells a story of homecoming to the tiny town of Lytton, BC; how its poetry transcends the sadness entrenched in the community we see onstage.
Jani Lauzon helms the first production of Loring’s text since Lytton burned to the ground one year ago. Lauzon’s vision is a love letter to Lytton’s rugged terrain, realized to its lushest potential through projections by Samay Arcentales Cajas. Some projections are animated doodles of fish and birds; some are photorealist videos of mountains and rivers. This schism in styles never feels awkward, never seems divorced from reality. Coupled with live, looped music from onstage musician and sound designer James Dallas Smith (who at times feels like a sixth character, a musical narrator even), Where the Blood Mixes’ aesthetic world is a rich one.
The story tucked inside this aesthetic feast certainly stings: there’s no getting around that. Ripped from her struggling father as a young child, Christine (the frenetic, magnetic Tara Sky) is now a young adult ready to reconnect with her past. Her father, Floyd, has become directionless in the time since she was pulled into foster care, a shell of himself in the absence of his only family. His lifelong friend, Mooch, is, well, a mooch — he lives for discarded halves of sandwiches, beers bought on credit, lotto tickets purchased using his partner’s grocery money. June, Mooch’s girlfriend, is just surviving, grappling with demons of her own as her partner bleeds her emotionally and financially dry.
Sheldon Elter as Floyd and Craig Lauzon as Mooch triumph at the centre of this production. It’s their show. Physically and emotionally, the two ricochet off each other in perfect unison, seemingly playing moments as much for each other as for us. Elter and Lauzon have several scenes together in which they stretch emotions to their absolute limits — brief moments of laughter easily give way to moments of undulating, omnipotent pain. Loring’s text feels natural in the mouths of these actors; this cast is a memorable one.
This is Craig Lauzon’s third time appearing in a production of Where the Blood Mixes. In a Toronto Star preview, he told me that before this play, he “had never seen characters who were so real — a play like this about Indigenous people. I was like, ‘Wow, I know these guys.’ And so I fell in love with it.” And that love shines through onstage.
Valerie Planche is an understated, nuanced June — it’s a tricky role which blossoms as the play develops and complicates. She brings moments of levity to a raw, visceral text. Planche shines in scenes with Sky’s Christine, revealing restorative layers of tenderness and kindness.
See this show. Revel in an extraordinary cast, a breathtaking set. Cry, laugh, listen. Loring’s play is a celebrated one with good reason, and this is a special production of it. Go.
Where the Blood Mixes runs at Soulpepper through June 19. Tickets are available here.