BLASTED by Sarah Kane
Performed by The Wilbury Theater Group
393 Broad Street, Providence RI
through April 5, 2014
Let me begin this review by saying you MUST attend this play. You owe it to yourself to experience this production(I say "experience" because all the senses are engaged here). It's a brutally honest play about war. Like Bergman's great war film SHAME, it has no "battle scenes" per se...but it depicts, just as brilliantly, without flinching, the horrible events and deeds that occur in wartime, to those with no control over decisions that cause wars in the first place, what the armchair generals of this world call "collateral damage"-- translate THAT drivel into "innocent lives destroyed, whole nations gutted, whole cultures obliterated for the sake of Greed and Grudge" for a less catchy but more accurate euphemism. Wilbury's Artistic Director and co-founder Josh Short unerringly helms this 90-some minute play, his superb design team and cast of three. Some reviewers of this event, not content with --as usual-- spelling out the plot, chose to list, in descending order, all the horrors you will witness on the stage(balcony, actually) of Wilbury's space at 393 Broad Street, Providence; what some might call "spoilers," others will defend as "fair warnings," which I understand; even after twice reading the play before seeing it Sunday , I could at times not bear to keep my eyes open . The craftsmanship, wit and yes, BEAUTY with which Short's staged them made these moments that much more horrible, and more necessary. That proves how powerful and necessary this play is, and how well Short has mounted it. The playwright, Sarah Kane, killed herself 1999 at age 28. I had the pleasure of meeting her once; a sweeter and kinder soul never lived. See BLASTED; may her death not be in vain. Go, NOW, to the Wilbury Group. Spoilers now follow.
The strangest of odd couples rendezvous in an expensive--yet hideous--hotel luxury hotel in Leeds, England. To Cate(Amber Kelly ), the pretty woman-child working-class Londoner in town for a football(i.e. "soccer" match), the room is "lovely," which gives us a hint how dreadful her home life must be. Her "date" is Ian(Alexander Cook) , a decidedly UN-lovely tabloid crime journalist of Welsh descent who's lived in Leeds most of his sorry awful life. . Ian, twice or more Cate's age, her former and( he hopes ) future lover, is literally a rotter, inside (liver and lungs from cigs and drink, brain and soul from a lifetime of degeneracy) and out--a drunken, paranoid bigot who brandishes a gun, spews bile at all he mentions, and clearly relishes filing by phone the serial-killer/axe murder yarns that are his sub-literary forte; he cannot woo Cate back into his arms by force, treats, pleas or humiliation, but extorts sexual favors (all convincingly simulated onstage) from her by any means that will serve. Even repeated off-stage showers cannot wash off his stench. The first scenes in the play indicate Ian may also be a pedophile, but Cate assures Ian "I loved you once...I still LIKE you," and despite his utter swinishness Ian might genuinely love her, as he might still his estranged son, now living with his ex-wife and her lesbian lover. Endlessly we are kept guessing as to their past and even present relationship: between blackouts, has Ian raped Cate or merely drawn a little blood during consensual cunnilingus? DID their "affair" begin as molestation? How old IS Cate anyway--early 20s or barely in her teens(in the US, Ms. Kelly would get carded by any responsible bartender or tobacconist)? Along with her epilepsy and stammer, is Cate also backward mentally, like the beloved kid brother Ian dismisses as a "spaz"? Is Cate right or wrong to draw Ian's gun on him? Is she right or wrong NOT to shoot him? Later, when all hope is lost, is she right or wrong to hand him the same gun so he can shoot himself, AFTER removing the bullets? See, I warned you about those spoilers.
After the squalid crimes and petty violence of the first scenes comes the Grand Guignol(minus the camp, plus genuine empathy even for the hateful Ian: an international race war rips through England; after a huge explosion, civilization implodes and this room is in the center, it seems, of what's left. Soldier( Jo 'an Belanger Peralta )a African-accented guerilla/terrorist, bursts into the room. Somehow missing Cate , he proceeds to do to Ian what, as he recounts in perversely lyric speech, what white soldiers did to those he loved; crimes which he went on to commit on others of all hues and ages, gleefully. Ian has corroded his own soul; though the Soldier's crimes are infinitely worse, one could argue that others robbed Soldier of his innocence and sanity, made him a predator that ONLY kills for pleasure. Probably people WE voted for. Anal rape, onstage defecation, and, yes, onstage cannibalism--off the living and dead-- follow. In the end, the only hope lies in the (possible) survival of one innocent...and prayers that all those who see this production will renounce war in all its forms. Fat chance, but worth the praying.
The final tableaux are staged in the manner of lap-dissolves in cinema, and each composes a stage picture as unforgettable as anything in Brecht or Beckett's finest work; as stills they'd fit right in a Bosch, Goya or Francis Bacon canvas. Also convincing, thanks to the magisterial lighting of Jason Ekenroth and sound design of Cyrus Leddy, are the off-screen explosions that trumpet this local apocalypse. Likewise, the use of such a cramped(yet comfortable for the audience--physically, anyway! ), intimate setting works wonders for the text, in ways undreamt in the site-specific experiments of Julian Beck and Richard Schechner.
The performers, seasoned professionals all--some lately local like Mr. Short, others imported from outside the company or state--cannot be faulted. As Ian, Cook, resembling a a prematurely ravaged Samuel Beckett/ Pete Postelwaite clone, (minus the charm and dulcet accent), craggy of aspect and voice, is both disgusting and amusing as Ian, and finally, perhaps, forgivable. As Cate,Ms. Kelly amply justifies Ian's lust and adoration--and ours; her depictions of neurological infirmity seem spot on; hints of an underlying intelligence of soul beneath her sparkling eyes only add to her charm as well as the potentially dreadful fate that could wait poor, sweet Cate in what's left of our future at play's end. In the smaller and more enigmatic role of Soldier , the handsome and debonair Perlata gracefully baits his prey, recounting atrocities seen and committed in his lilting creole patois, making this monster as perversely alluring as Ian is rightly repulsive; he's Yeats Rough Beast awakened by the stupider leaders of Western Civilization, galloping rather than slouching, to YOUR hometown, to be born. The accents, while accurate to this American's ears, are sometimes impenetrable--but as in Guy Ritchie heist films and the dramatic oeuvre of Martin McDonagh, or indeed any drama written in slang or demotic, that is often a rub. (When they show PRIZZI'S HONOR or BARBERSHOP in foreign anglophone countries, are they dubbed or subtitled? Ritchie's films should be here...)
As I said at the top, EVERYONE needs to see this production: ordinary Americans who, until 9/11, had no clue that wanton atrocities are the NORM in modern warfare; knee-jerk lefties who view all guerilla groups, anti-Westerners and terrorists, from the PLO and Castro to the IRA, as "freedom fighters"(which actually should mean "people fighting AGAINST freedom," as THOSE three are); our Chicken-hawk War Mongering leaders(none of whom--just like that so-called "American Hero" John Wayne-- ever hear a shot fired in anger or fight the wars they monger--no, THEY always have "other priorities" i.e. dreaming up MORE useless wars for other's kids to DIE in); anyone who votes; anyone who thinks; anyone who breathes. One reason, I gather, for choosing a venue with seating limited to 40 was that Short assumed this show would not find a large audience; I hope Short is wrong. I hope this play, in this space, runs for decades, like CATS or THE FANTASTICKS or THE MOUSETRAP. Were I a Medici or Maecenas, I would fund world-wide tours of this production; were I King, I'd force Dick Cheney and Ann Coulter to watch it trussed in a chair like Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. That's how good and fine and NEEDED this production is. Miss it at the world's peril.