Crave/Somewhere in the Pacific
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
July 8, 2008
I suppose the theme of Potomac Theatre Project's double-bill of Sarah Kane's Crave and Neal Bell's Somewhere in the Pacific is "looking for love in all the wrong places." This is pure guesswork on my part, since the two plays are so disparate in content, tone, style, and length (the former being about 40 minutes and the latter being about an hour twenty), and, for me, quality, I wonder why they were paired together.
Crave, by far the highlight of the evening, is a haunting and poetic meditation on loneliness, co-dependency, desperation, and self-loathing. Four actors—two men, two women—sit in chairs and relay overlapping lines and monologues about feeling trapped both in and out of relationships (relationships meaning anything from casual one-night stands to long-lasting marriages).
The actors never acknowledge one another as they speak, nor do they leave their seats, which buttresses the show's core of souls failing to connect.
"Only love can save me and love has destroyed me," one character says (they don't have names: they're listed simply as C, M, B, and A). "I'm evil, I'm damaged, and no one can save me," opines another. They talk about being trapped and betrayed by the false notion of love and romance. They talk about secret desires. They reveal deviant fetishes. They articulate deep-rooted emotional pains. They confess a craving to be anesthetized.
As nihilistic as it is, Crave is also very funny. Sure, the comedy is of the "gallows humor" variety, but it's still funny nonetheless. I couldn't help but laugh when one character said: "I keep telling people I'm pregnant. They say 'How did you do it, what are you taking?' I say I drank a bottle of port, smoked some fags, and fucked a stranger." (Okay, so if that line just made you wince, I guess your sense of humor differs from mine.)
Director Cheryl Faraone clearly trusts her actors and Kane's text: she's smart enough to know that this piece does not need any clutter or flourishes (read: gimmicks) to be captivating: aside from a few sparse lighting cues (and some music book-ending the piece), the staging is as bare-bones as you can get. This serves the script well.
Unsurprisingly, Kane's words ring painfully, brutally true from beginning to end: there isn't a false note or line to be found. Faraone and the cast—Adam Ludwig, Stephanie Janssen, Rishabh Kashyap, and Stephanie Strohm—get Kane's rhythms perfectly, making Crave a truly hypnotic and evocative show.
Somewhere in the Pacific is a very different beast. Bell's play is a longer, linear, more narrative show about American troops on a ship bound for Okinawa at the end of World War II. The ship's captain is haunted by the death of his son in battle. Someone has read a letter his son had written about the horrors he encountered during his tour aloud over the P.A. system, and the captain is engaged in a witch hunt to find the culprit. Meanwhile, two soldiers are having an affair. And on top of all this, the young marines on the ship are worried—well, sick with dread is probably the more accurate description—that they're ultimately sitting ducks for the Japanese.
Somewhere in the Pacific is well acted by the ensemble cast and ably directed by Jim Petosa, with a simple yet effective set by Mark Evancho. Yet, still...Somewhere in the Pacific was a bit hit-or-miss for me, possibly because it didn't seem to be a particularly good fit with Crave. Where Crave is structurally tight, Somewhere in the Pacific is meandering (I have to admit, there were a number of times I wondered where the show was going).
Also, I got the feeling Bell didn't quite know what he wanted Somewhere in the Pacific to be. A meditation on the horrors of war? A gays-in-the-military "issue" play? A comment on the abuses of power and/or how grief clouds judgment? I think all of these ideas are there, but they don't seem to gel cohesively at the end of the day.
Maybe I just feel this because I found Crave so powerful, so effective and affecting and couldn't (can't) help but compare the two experiences.
Despite this, there are some very impressive and noteworthy elements to Somewhere in the Pacific. There's one fascinating sequence where a soldier has a nightmare about the captain's son being murdered, and although some may be offended (he imagines the Japanese soldiers in those horrific buck-tooth, yellow-skinned caricature masks), I admired the method in which it is done, since it doesn't impose our modern-day political correctness on the characters' psyche (let's face it: an American solider in World War II would not have P.C. thoughts about the Japanese), and feels like a sequence out of a show from the mid-'40s.
I also liked the scene where the two lovers are discovered by another soldier, and his response (believing they're all sailing to their deaths) is of the "smoke 'em if you got 'em" variety: "I think you two should fuck each other's brains out. While you still got 'em," he says.
Ultimately, the double-bill makes for an interesting, albeit uneven and imbalanced, evening of theatre.