By Sarah Kane. Directed by Richard Wolfe. A Pi Theatre production. At Performance Works on Saturday, April 11. Continues until April 25
Twenty years ago, Blasted shocked and enraged many who saw it. Today—in this production, at least—it barely even surprised me.
We’re in a hotel room in Leeds with Ian, a tabloid journalist who carries a gun for reasons we’ll find out about soon enough, and Cate, a young woman who may be intellectually compromised, who has seizures—and who has sex with Ian when he pressures her into it. That sex is violent. Afterwards, Cate says, “I can’t piss. It's just blood...Or shit. It hurts.” Then global violence enters the room in the form of a soldier who’s part of some kind of overthrow. He’s got a machine gun and he rapes Ian.
Playwright Sarah Kane’s points are pretty straightforward: violence begets violence; men, especially, are responsible for perpetrating the cycle; and brutality is real, even if it seems far away.
The gender discussion could use more nuance—Cate is not only a victim; she’s a vegetarian saint—but, broadly speaking, it’s easy to support everything that Kane is talking about. And, over time, her analysis may have acquired greater urgency. In 1995, nobody expected the Bosnian conflict to spread onto British soil. But, in 2015, Canada’s military involvement in Syria may bring that war home in increasingly tragic ways.
Still, Kane’s analysis is far from fresh and her howl of pain becomes relentlessly repetitive. Do you think the rapes are the worst of it? Think again. Eye gouging is a highlight and then there’s the cannibalization of an infant. The problem isn’t that the events are rough; I’m up for that if it’s taking me somewhere, but Blasted runs more on supposedly increasing shock than on growing insight—or on any other satisfying accumulation of experience.
Different interpretive choices might have kept me more engaged. Under Richard Wolfe’s direction, this production takes the expressway to hell and we can always see exactly where we’re going. It’s hard to say, but my hunch is that the script allows for more narrative tension than this approach yields. The soldier, for instance, wavers between savagery and vulnerability. But, as the encounter is played here, even when the soldier softened, I never thought for a moment that Ian might take advantage and escape.
Michael Kopsa (Ian), Cherise Clarke (Cate), and Raresh Dimofte (Soldier) all do decent work and Kane’s world can’t be easy to inhabit, but I wish the actors had dived deeper into it. When this Cate complains about the damage Ian has caused to her vagina and anus, she sounds little more than petulant and, when the soldier gouges out Ian’s eyes, the reality of that agony doesn’t register.
All of that said, the physical stagecraft in Wolfe’s production is masterful. Drew Facey’s slick hotel-room set provides the best surprises of the evening, Jeff Harrison’s lighting finds a pleasing balance of drama and muted naturalism, and Remy Siu’s score is understated but insistently anxiety-provoking.
Still, the script just keeps beating you over the head.