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IN-YER-FACE AND BURNT INTO YER SOUL

 

picture - BlastedTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published November 26, 2008

 

Blasted

now playing Off Broadway at The Soho Rep

through December 21

 

The motel room is so authentic, like every generic motel room anyone has ever been in, that, when its door opens, one half expects to see oneself enter, instead of the couple who do. He, Ian (a burnt-out case, if ever there was one) is an unpleasant, hopelessly racist, highly oversexed, middle-aged married journalist whose specialty is prurient sex scandals. She, Cate, is a slow-ish, somewhat mentally challenged young woman, timid and tentative in speech and movement, who used to be Ian’s mistress. She is there, it seems, because, though their relationship no longer exists, she has a lingering connection to Ian on a human level and seems to feel that, at this moment, he needs her. He is there for the reason most men take women to motel rooms: to get off. He can be cruel when he doesn’t get what he wants, and she has no use for his cruelty and less desire for his sexual advances. But he is not a brute. And she is not a cock-tease. They are (and this – as the play circles around them in their clumsy efforts to reach out to each other – is what is so  interesting about them) pretty much like us. He can be as tender as he is cruel. She can be as yielding as she is shy. Perhaps it is, after all, ourselves we see when they enter that motel room.

 

 picture - Sarah Kane
Playwright Sarah Kane

Eventually, as you might reasonably expect, the motel room becomes a war zone in the battle of the sexes, but, in Sarah Kane’s mesmerizing Blasted, it goes far beyond one’s wildest expectations; to tell more would be to destroy, to a great degree, the experience of coming upon the play and letting it just happen to you. It is enough to say that if Louisa Thompson gains deserved praise for her set design, it is not for its verisimilitude, but rather for what happens to it in the course of the evening. This is one motel room you may never want to see again, but, once stuck there, there is no exit; nor do you, no matter what your gut tells you, really want to leave. It is not easy to say what this play has on its mind, some of it is so unimaginable, but, if Sarah Kane could have imagined it, and Sarah Benson, her director of the Soho Rep production, could have put it on the stage with such transfixing power, it behooves us to not only enter the world they created, but to be jolted out of one’s seat by its every turn of the screw.

 

picture - BlastedThe fact that this is Kane’s earliest play, first produced in 1995 at London’s Royal Court (which was to be her second home), and has never been produced here before, is shocking, and it is also poignant, because Kane hanged herself in 1999 at the age of twenty-eight years, only four years into a potentially stunning career as one of England’s most excitingly refreshing new playwriting voices. If Blasted is any indication of the tumult roiling inside her head, however, suicide may have hopefully brought her peace. The inferno into which she plunges her characters is, after all, the inferno she herself not only plunged into but one she seemed so desperate to comprehend. What is beautiful about this production – yes, in spite of the horrors, there is beauty here – is that it insists on exploring that precise desperation to comprehend the whirling madness of what lies just outside the borders of what we call our ordinary lives. It does not exploit the “in-yer-face” shock value people talk about when they talk about Kane’s style; instead, it ferrets out everything that is inessential and leaves you with the feeling that a hole has been burned into your soul.

 

The actors are superb; no playwright could ask for a more disciplined or dedicated cast. Marin Ireland’s Cate seems to bring the playwright into the room with her, in her body, on her face, in every single move she makes; in normal circumstances, she gropes around passively, but, when the world around her lies in shatters, she is efficient and matter-of-fact. Reed Birney’s Ian has more contradictions than almost any other character you can think of, but Birney plays them all as if they sprang from the same altogether human source. There is a third character, a soldier from some unnamed war, that this reviewer has purposely not talked about, in an effort to keep the reader from knowing too much about the play before seeing it, but he comes brilliantly and frighteningly to life in Louis Cancelmi’s performance.

 

Matt Tierney’s sound design, too, must be mentioned, for it is surely as memorable as anything in this production, detonating as it does into explosions and epiphanies. And there you have the key to the success of the work on display. It explodes, yes, and it is deeply disturbing, and you are not apt to want to sit through it more than once, but, once seen, you are never going to forget it, nor the bruising reminder that theater, at its best, is capable of offering deeper revelations than we even think we are in search of.  Blasted is plug-ugly at its core, but it is also a portrait etched in acid by a playwright very much connected to the human condition.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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