Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sarah Kane

I recently read Sarah Kane: Complete Plays for the first time. I don't know if I have a whole lot to say on the plays; considering that 99% of you out there reading Jamespeak are no doubt already familiar with Ms. Kane's work, I don't think I need to tell you that this is some powerful stuff (yes, I'm like the guy who just saw Taxi Driver for the first time and wants to talk about it to a group of people who moved on from incessantly quoting it years ago).

So I'll make this entry short and invite myself to the party very, very late and say that these are excellent plays delving into the subject of love - most often, abusive, codependent and addictive love - that feature some of the darkest and most violent imagery for the stage I've read.

It's not everyday that I read a play that has stage directions explaining that the main character "eats a baby."

I'm very curious to see any of these works staged, not just to see them on their feet, but just to see how on earth a production company stages them. Many scenes made me go, "How do you STAGE that?" One play, Cleansed, has a person getting his limbs cut off and rats running on stage to eat them.

Rats. Running. On. Stage.

I had regrettably missed One Year Lease's 2005 production of Phaedra's Love, which for some reason I found to be the most disturbing to read. Yes, more disturbing than the aforementioned Cleansed.


Not sure, exactly. Perhaps because the character of Hippolytus, an overweight lethargic sex-addicted couch potato who masturbates in his socks and welcomes death, seemed so simultaneously repellent and so believable. Perhaps because of the way it brings a fairly limp...

(Limp because the titular Phaedra is one of those characters with a big neon "Unhappy Ending" sign blinking above her head and you can only be so invested in her self-made undoing before you go, "Oh, right; no surprise there," when you reach the end.)

...myth to life in a way I hadn't expected. Perhaps because of the way it uses pitch-black humor to give the story a grisly "killing joke" feel. (After Phaedra fellates Hippolytus, he advises: "Talk to your doctor - I have gonorrhea.")

I'd also love to see - or rather, hear - a production of Crave, her first play that doesn't feature onstage violence but still repeats her recurring themes of codependent love, love-as-self-destructive-addiction and love-as-identity-creator. There are four characters, each named only by a letter, with no stage directions or indication if the characters are young or old, male or female, interacting or separate. This is very much a "director's show," one that could be very compelling or absolutely insufferable, depending on the ingenuity - or lack thereof - of the director.

A while back, George Hunka suggested that Cleansed be staged "without explicit violence or blood: to allow Kane's vision of redemption to emerge with clarity." An interesting idea, but I'm not sure I'm convinced of that angle: the play is clearly designed to be a visceral - rather than an intellectual or theoretical - experience. Yes, it would make the sense of hope that emerges at the end clearer, but it would be evading (I think) a good portion of the experience (to me, it is not by any means a play about hope and redemption but rather a very bleak play about how love destroys and dismembers us that features hope and redemption).

(I think it also begs the question whether or not one finds the scene where one character force-feeds another an entire box of chocolates "violent.")

Now, I don't want to be giving anyone the impression that Ms. Kane's work is of the "Wow, totally effin' sick and twisted" variety (in other words, empty sensationalism). It's not (although it took Ms. Kane a while to shake this reputation). At the core of all of Ms. Kane's plays is a brutal honesty portraying the sickness inherent to the need to connect that is very rare in theatre these days. To see the difference between Kane's work and sensationalism, compare Cleansed with Brad Fraser's The Ugly Man (both plays are about the characters' desires and how they become their undoing that feature nudity, mutilation and murder, but they're absolutely worlds apart).

It's not at all surprising Ms. Kane killed herself (she killed herself in 1999 at the age of 28), considering her final "play," 4.48 Psychosis, isn't so much a play as it is a 40-page free-verse suicide note. Hell, if the imagery in her plays were the filtered images going on through her mind, I'm guessing her unbridled imagination was implacably and unbearably horrific.

Well, these are my initial half-baked initial reactions to Sarah Kane's plays after (finally) getting around to reading them. If you're like me who's almost always behind the times when it comes to who's being paid attention to in the theatre world, check her plays out if you haven't already.

And if anyone's doing a production of one of the plays in New York this year, please let me know.

Diggin' the creepy-crawlies,

James "Crazyface" Comtois

Ps. To read George Hunka's excellent essays on Ms. Kane's work, click here.

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Blogger Ken said...

well you might get your wish to see a production in NYC of Kane's work in 2008. i'll keep you posted. ken

8:41 PM  

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