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Theatre Journal 53.3 (2001) 496-498
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Crave. By Sarah Kane. Axis Company, Axis Theatre, New York. 8 November 2000.
It is fitting, given the ironies and contradictions of her brief yet impressive career, that Sarah Kane would receive her official introduction to US audiences in a play she wrote under a pseudonym. Kane was something of the enfant terrible of contemporary British theatre, emerging in the flurry of exciting mid-1990s theatre. The press quickly dubbed Kane, Mark Ravenhill (Shopping and Fucking), and Martin McDonagh (The Beauty Queen of Leenane) as the "New British Nihilists." Kane's first play Blasted (1985), featuring scenes of cannibalism and sodomy, was made infamous by the Daily Mail's Jack Tinker who called it "a disgusting piece of filth." The play quickly became a media event, and in the debacle the play's investigation of violence and gender was largely lost in a debate centering on the Royal Court's right to stage a play which, according to Tinker and others, "knows no bounds of decency." Kane continued to explore the violence of authority and institutions in the plays that followed: Phaedra's Love (1996), her adaptation of Seneca; and Cleansed (1998). However, a different Kane emerged with her next play.
Crave (1998) is a poetic drama in which four speakers, two men and two women named A, B, C [End Page 496] and M respectively, muse on the turmoil of loss and desire. Devoid of stage directions, the play achieves a careful balance between sparse dialogue, often directed at the audience, and lengthy monologues. Kane's writing, as even her critics would admit, was haunting and lyrical, garnering comparisons to late Beckett and T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, while displaying Kane's biting sense of humor. First staged as part of the Edinburgh Festival, far from the notice of London critics, and credited to writer Marie Kelvedon (whose fake bio humorously included a stint as a roadie for the band Manic Street Preachers), Crave marked a transition from Kane's earlier work. While not without its flaws, the play promised a new and exciting period in her writing. Sadly, this was not to be. Kane, while being treated for depression, committed suicide in February 1999 at the age of twenty-eight.
The Axis Company is to be commended for staging the challenging work of a British playwright mistakenly overlooked in this country. With the exception of readings at New Dramatists (a development organization where Kane spent time on a playwriting fellowship), Kane's plays have not received a venue in New York City or elsewhere in the United States. For those interested in her work, it is hard not to be grateful to the Axis Company for the opportunity to see one of her plays; that said, however, director Randy Sharp's production failed to capture Kane's strengths. Sharp and her four actors (Blondie's Deborah Harry, David Guion, Kristin DiSpaltro, and Brian Barnhart) turned Crave into a static and dull piece of theatre. Sharp's use of video projections and stylized lighting made the piece sculpturally beautiful, but the show was theatrically dead, lacking the irony and anger that make Kane's writing so potent. With few exceptions, the production rendered the play's satire flat. Case in point was A's (Barnhart's) monologue: A's lengthy catalogue of a lover's wishes, culled from the banal and sentimental images of pop culture, revealed the logic of obsession, a textual burst of hysteria meant to be spoken quickly. Barnhart delivered this monologue as a "real" emotional moment, complete with lengthy pauses and tears, no irony in sight.
The play's staging only compounded this fatal lack of humor. Sharp set the play in a disembodied space where the four black clad actors stood in a line while videos playing over the actors' heads set the piece firmly in New York City. Although the text does not specify a setting, a director would be wise to give the piece a sense of location, as Vicky Featherstone did in the play's first production...