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"In Better Places": Space, Identity, and Alienation in Sarah Kane's Blasted Christopher Wixson My wound is my geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call. —Pat Conroy, The Prince ofTides Part of the task of new playwrights has always been to re-envision theatrical representation to reflect cultural shifts. The political and technological upheaval ofthe last quarter century has dissolved the old map, the margins to a certain extent moving to the center, and engendered the hope of a new freedom governing social relations, a culture less hierarchical. Yet, for so many characters in contemporary English plays,such alandscapeisnotsoempowering.1 SarahKane'sBlasted(1995) employs graphic depictions ofsex and violence as well as radical peripatetic spatial shifts that act as emblems ofthis alienation, challenging the conventions ofrealistic theater byextending to the audience her characters ' estrangement from their environment. This essay's title alludes to the first spoken line ofKane's explosive play in which world-weary, tabloid journalist Ian enters a "very expensive hotel room in Leeds" and wryly declares,"I've shat in better places than this."2 His comment not only betrays his defensive insecurities but lays the groundwork for the play's lavatorial sensibilities and the author's obsession (to be explored in her later work as well) with what Michel Foucault calls heterotopic spacing .3With Blasted, Kane seeks to dismantle the old psycho-geographical dramaturgy and construct onstage a new model of place and identity from the devastation. Committed to returningthe repressed,Kane in Blastedstrives to represent onstage what is often only implied or relegated offstage, moving the margins to the center. She attempts to represent the political, ethical, and existential unconscious while avoidingeuphemism through abstract 75 76Comparative Drama symbolism or metaphor. Her realism understands the subconscious not as a Stanislavskian signified but as the matter oftheater itself. She resists neoclassical discretion in her representation of violence, mandating us to confront what comfortable theatergoers in the West put aside in our day-to-day lives. Pared down to basics, Blasted's plot concerns what transpires in a Leeds hotel room between Ian, a middle-aged writer in poor physical and moral health, and Cate, a young, innocent girl prone to strange unconscious fits. He manipulates and eventually rapes her, an act Kane chooses not to represent onstage.The following morning,Cate bites Ians penis and escapes through a bathroom window.A soldier arrives through the door, and the room is hit by a mortar shell. Afterward, the nameless soldier talks to Ian about atrocity, sodomizes him, sucks out and eats Ian's eyes, and then shoots himself. Cate returns with a baby who quickly dies, and she buries it in the floor marked by a cross.After she leaves, the newly blinded Ian eats the baby and crawls into the floorboards. At the end, Cate returns, bleeding between her legs but carrying food. The bynow infamous premiere of Blasted occasioned a media maelstrom and assured a sold-out run. Engaged in the worst sort of faux-intellectual mastication, critics bombarded the production with cranky diatribes lamenting the content of the play and the spirited audacity of its author who quicklybecame a theatrical sprezzatura.While the macabre Jacobean energy that drives Blasted largely encompasses its notoriety, critics as stronglyobjected to Kane'sviolation ofquasi-Aristotelian place as to her strident bounds over the lines ofdecency. What Aleks Sierz identifies as the play's "deliberately unusual and provocative form"4 is a function of two elements: the rejection ofa unity ofspace and the unflinching representation ofcorporeal suffering. As Una Chaudhuri has convincinglyargued,twentieth-centurydrama hasperpetuallywrangledwith reconceptualizingtheatrical environments beginning with realism and naturalism, generic modes "based on the principle of spatial intelligibility, on the idea that where an action unfolds goes a longwaytowards explainingit."5 Kane's characters longfor a space that confers upon them the properties of home: security, fulfillment ,privacy, and belonging. Unfortunately,theyfind themselves lost in place,wandering within spaces that are transient,porous, and constantly Christopher Wixson11 under siege. Kane chooses the moment when the soldier marks his territory (urinating in the hotel room in front ofIan) to reorganize the space and the structure of her play with a "blinding light.and a huge...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 75-91
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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