Generally when reviewing an audio drama, I try to avoid giving away any plot points that come after about the 20-minute mark. With this audio, however, I’ll make an exception, because I can’t imagine that the things I reveal would have come as surprises to any listener with a pulse.
You may have gathered that the latest Dark Shadows release is rather predictable. But in the context of the series that’s not necessarily a surprise or a disappointment. The real problem is that this story is incredibly melodramatic, beyond even what a soap opera should try to get away with. At its best, the television series could generate an atmosphere of unease through a subtle buildup to a moment of terror, but Blood Dance doesn’t offer a single moment of subtlety, and so it becomes ridiculous, and not even in an entertaining way.
The setting is Chicago in the Roaring Twenties, where Quentin Collins has come after fleeing Collinwood in search of peace. He meets Chandres Tessier, the owner of a speakeasy, and is instantly attracted to her. As the two grow closer, she reveals a dark secret and a growing threat from which only Quentin can protect her. But can he trust her? And why do the dancers at the speakeasy move with such slow, hypnotic rhythms?
I won’t answer the second question, but it’s clear virtually from her first line of dialogue that Chandres is evil and that she is manipulating Quentin. Nonetheless, it takes fully 37 minutes of the play’s 64 minute running time for the deception to be revealed. All that happens in those 37 minutes is that her lies become more transparent and ridiculous. I’ve tried several times to come up with an eloquent explanation for why this is a problem, but I might as well be blunt: it’s boring. Up to a point a melodrama can get away with having its characters fail to recognise the obvious, but Blood Dance takes this too far, to the point where instead of being frustrated with Quentin a listener is more likely to become frustrated with the script.
Once the truth finally comes out, the plot stalls further as Quentin and Chandres have a debate about comparative morality (“I’m evil, but so are you!”) that might be interesting or weighty if either one was a plausible or three-dimensional character. Neither of those things being the case, it just feels like filler. Finally, Quentin makes a decision that leads to an abrupt and underwhelming conclusion. Endless buildup followed by a quick, disappointing conclusion was all too often the rhythm of televised Dark Shadows, but there were often a few surprising twists along the way, and in any case these are standalone dramas, not an ongoing serial, and the factors that mitigated those flaws on TV don’t apply here. There’s no reason not to develop more complicated and surprising stories for these releases.
Even if you can forgive the slow pace of Blood Dance, there are other problems at work. The dialogue, when it’s not burdened with awkward exposition, is overwrought and riddled with cliches. Quentin declares that an emotional pang “pierced my heart like a silver bullet”, and he describes a particular location as the place “where an appointment with destiny awaited me”. Reading those phrases is bad enough, but David Selby’s breathy performance, which has the over the top corniness of a bad Vincent Price impression, compounds the absurdity: every other line is delivered like it’s a moment of ominous significance. And on top of that, there are pompously dramatic music cues to hammer the scares and warnings home, like the one that follows Quentin’s line, “Well, my dear Chandres, we’ll just have to see about that”. If any of this was tongue-in-cheek it might be delightful, but it’s all played without a hint of irony. I’d call the total effect laughable, except that I was bored rather than amused.
There are a few bright spots. Although it’s overused, the music is good on its own terms, Lisa Richards’ performance as Chandres is solid, and there are one or two moments that manage to be creepy rather than bombastic. But these small positives can’t make up for the slow, dull plot and uninspired, one-note dialogue. Blood Dance has all the flaws of Dark Shadows and none of its virtues.
Blood Dance (by Stephen Mark Rainey; starring David Selby) was released by Big Finish Productions in April 2010.