nytheatre.com review by Ross Peabody
February 22, 2006
If nothing else, Bosley Theatrical Productions has made a very bold move. In choosing to revive Crave, the late Sarah Kane’s penultimate work, as the company’s second outing, they have drawn a line in the sand about the kind of daring and audacious plays that they intend to present. On courage and moxie alone, for this choice, I give them an A. Crave is an extraordinary and an extraordinarily difficult play, and by the books, the company, comprising a group of recent American Conservatory Theater graduates, has the talent to make a well intentioned attempt at reviving this play, although, under Justin Quinn Pelegano’s direction, it sadly falls short of the mark.
Crave presents four characters called, simply, M, B, A, and C. It explores, quite bracingly, the nature of craving, of feeling a desperate need for something that you do not, and may not ever, have. Written more as a “text for performance” (as Kane called it) than a narrative play, it is constructed as a series of poetic, jarring, and fragmented statements by each character as they navigate a messy and dangerous psychological landscape in various attempts to understand and survive everything from sexual urges to familial histories to love and death. It is both a meditation and a pained scream. In dramatically and poetically fetishizing everything from the urge toward sexual “deviance”(“I am not a rapist, I am a pedophile”), the fear of constant regression (“why can’t I learn”), and anger at familial relations, amidst an avalanche of other “unthinkable” topics and ideas, Kane’s play illustrates, quite viscerally, the overly traumatized minds of these four characters, but holds an undeniably strident and deep-seated belief in beauty and hope for some kind of life.
Presented with the actors facing the audience for nearly the entirety of the play’s 50 minutes, the intended expressionistic style of this production seems at odds with the many naturalistic choices made by the actors and their director. Andrew Lu’s spare set creates a placelessness onstage that is fascinating and deepens both the stage and the activity on it. His elegant lighting allows for an eerie breadth of possibilities, of which he seems keenly aware. The actors very quickly create a rhythmic pace with Kane’s words, less a conversation than a barrage of undiluted emotion that, if the momentum were allowed to keep, would make for a frenetic, wrenching and diabolically affecting evening. This style lasts only moments, however, and quickly becomes slave to stagecraft.
The company has identified two pairs of characters and used the words of the play to justify two relationships that they then focus on. The first couple is a young drunk that wants to have sex with an older woman and that woman who wants alternately to both have a child and not have one (the same woman? Hard to say). The second is a businessman and his homebound wife. He spends much time listing the wonderful things that he would like to do with her, while not doing them, and she slowly breaks psychologically under the stress of repression until she explodes in sexuality.
There is a bold but flawed choice in this approach. It is a huge break from what you would expect from such expressionistic words, and could be interesting. However, in reining in the possibilities of perspective, it eliminates and homogenizes the multitude of voices at play in the text, dulling them, controlling them, and ultimately neutering them. Despite the fact that the actors regularly step into other character voices to keep up with the script, the simple fact that we are focusing on two superimposed relationships identifies much too keenly what we should and shouldn’t be paying attention to in the play and does not allow for the wash of direct, unfiltered emotion and drama that the words themselves supply.
Three of the actors, and Pelegano himself, seem to be in their safety zone working in a traditional, naturalistic context. The actors identify the character relationships and dive in. Even when speaking to each other, while generally continuing to focus out to the audience, the actors’ deep character work leads us to feel as though they are looking right at each other. While something I would normally praise, this stylistic break, being far from alienating or effective, makes us, the audience, realize just how far they are straying from the words themselves in order to have relationship moments onstage. Julie Fizpatrick, in the role of “C” is the only one onstage immune to this. She is in her own world, inhabiting her own special part of the play, and, no matter the line, allows the words of the play to pour through her, letting us in on this character’s isolated and very deeply personal pain. She allows the agency of the words of the play to overshadow the agency of the actor, or a character, and serves the play splendidly.
If this were a play of a different sort, a Sam Shepard, or an Edward Albee, where real characters must deal with extraordinary, sometimes abstract or expressionistic scenarios and events in the form of a traditional narrative, I feel that I would be applauding Bosley Theatrical Productions for the skill at which they present and penetrate these characters' inner lives. Unfortunately, with Crave, where the play itself is both the inner life of the characters and the characters themselves, I can only ask that they do this play, and not a Sam Shepard or an Edward Albee.