SARAH KANE’S DARK VISION OF WAR CRIMES IS “NO FAIRIES, NO NARNIA, NO NOTHING”
THIS PLAY EXPLODES WITH MUST SEE
The Ashby stage in Berkeley will never be the same, Sarah Kane X rated phenomenal first play BLASTED - is shocking and shaking Shotgun Theatre fans. Bravo to Director Jon Tracy and artistic director Patrick Dooley for bringing this production team to the Shotgun stage. BLASTED is blowing minds and hearts through October 22 at the Ashby stage. The play shocked West End critics with its images and brutal story inspired by the Bosnian genocide. Kane’s first play and sadly short playwriting career ended in 1999; she suffered from depression and committed suicide. "Blasted" was also banned in some cities and became a shock experience of the late 90’s that now is still a gripping experience.
Shotgun theatre’s artistic director, Patrick Dooley, released a statement about the controversial play “Sarah Kane’s Blasted has been sitting out there for us, almost like a dare - the well-documented violence and depravity of this piece always made it feel just too… extreme. Well, extreme times demand extreme theatre. Blasted has pushed our artistic and technical teams to the extremes of their abilities. “Risk” is an overused term in our industry, but I can safely say that no Shotgun production has ever embodied that word more completely. That said: Blasted is not for everyone.”
The story involves three characters. A middle-aged man and younger woman meet at a hotel room. As public and private violations collide, their world explodes around them. In the second act a scavenging soldier joins them in the isolation. Directed by local favorite Theatre1st artistic director, Jon Tracy, who told me this is his most intense amazing play he has ever directed “There is such a mystique around this piece. I hope what people come away with is the realization that the things they thought would be challenging wound up to be the least of their experience. How people listen and how people try to live in these moments and survive these moments— how can you laugh through something when your body wants to cry? The surprise of the story is that it’s full of hope, full of love, full of tenderness.”
Kane crafted characters living in war a state of madness and a loss of humanity. Their madness is devastating, bloody and unforgettable. Kane said “I wrote it to tell the truth. Of course that's shocking. Take the glamour out of violence and it becomes utterly repulsive. Would people seriously prefer it if the violence was appealing? - I have no interest in trying to manipulate people's emotions or opinions. I'm simply trying to tell the truth about human behaviour as I see it. Everyone's reactions to that will always be entirely different. It's not in my control. I wouldn't want it to be."
This is an important play yet it certainly isn't for everyone. The Shotgun website warns it is not allowing anyone under 18 years of age to attend, even with a parent. Sure rape, suicide, violence, sex and more is detailed - this story goes way beyond that. I Claudius, Titus Andronicus, can bring the subtext to the stage, but not the live experience Kane calls for.
The compelling Robert Parsons and Arienne Kaori Walters play Ian and Cate, the scripts central couple. Cate screams uncontrollably at the touch of Ian, and their dialog at times can be humorous, and empty. Kane strips all three characters to bare all emotion and what is left for their desire to live or not survive. What Tracy and his actors do so well is show the audience their vulnerability as chaos rises to scare us and try not to witness the savagery on stage. Dooley says “The Bosnian genocide was at its height and showed no signs of waning when Kane wrote this play” and goes on to point out” Kane portrays this violence—and how personal she makes it—is what makes this play so controversial. She is angry at a world that has glossed over the savage depravity of war—and worse yet—chosen to ignore it”.
BLASTED plays in real time and takes us through a time line as these three characters on stage descend into a hell like reality. Ian is a 40 something cancer sick tabloid writer who wants to tell “his stories”, Parsons takes Ian to that wheezing coughing hurt as his sickness slowly is killing him. The well meaning Cate tries to care for him, but she too bounces into fits of hysterical breakdowns when Ian gets too close to her. But then she turns around and teases him, and Walters is earnest in her madness to bond with her monster. Their dysfunctional relationship is interrupted when a deranged soldier, played by the chilling Joe Estlack, fighting a civil war out in the streets joins them or more like captures them.
Set designed by the award winning Nina Ball; the space is an extraordinary real upscale hotel room with shadow lighting and a white theme room that made for easy movement. Ball with assistance of Justin Law need to “Blast” the set as a bomb of sorts hits the hotel. This is a numbing effect that dusts the entire Ashby stage theatre as rubble falls from the ceiling as the hotel room crumbles. Created and designed by Ball and Law this moment in the play is as powerful as any of the emotions we are about to feel in the second act.
An explosion reduces the hotel room to ruble; Heather Basarab’s and Victoria Langland’s light design comes alive with sparks and flashes as we wonder if the lights will ever come back on. The explosion, violence and physical godless starvation leave Ian and Cate broken and altered. The soldier has done his deed, and at a time I was pleased to see him bring the same pain to Ian that he does to Cate. But the war crimes continue as Cate leaves the bombed out building to look for food.
Ian says "No God. No Father Christmas. No fairies. No Narnia. No ... nothing. ... Don't be ... stupid, doesn't make sense anyway. No reason for there to be a God just because it would be better if there was." The 90 minute emotional ride into madness, hell and war is an important work and AD Dooley continues why he wants his Shotgun fans and others to see this work “Because it’s important we remember that even in the throes of humanity’s most debased moments, there is still hope. Where there is life—there is hope. Kane’s charge is that we acknowledge the violence each of us brings into the world—regardless of how small—and lift up those impulses of grace.”
The craft team for BLASTED is award honored Bay Area theatre artists including the contemporary costume design by Miyuki Bierlein that include a soldier's muddy greens covered with death and Cate’s first act war fashion. The stage management by Christina Elizabeth Larson who is paramount in orchestrating the actors entrance and safety on the doomed boomed out set. The props design by Devon LaBelle are classic upscale hotel room, but as the story darkens LaBelle was required to craft some deeply disturbing effects. Sound designer Matt Stines becomes the fourth character in this story as the soundtrack to these three humans reveals the subtext to their madness and Stines’ blast for the destruction is haunting. The violence and hate/love on stage involves some serious fight, sexual choreography coached by fight director Elena Wright, and theatrical violence consultation by the provocative Dave Maier.
Jon Tracy brilliantly directed this play staging the horrors that Kane called for. As intense as the timeline progresses Tracy keeps the images honest and the important visceral impact will keep you thinking long after you see this story. The opening night audience sat transfixed to the events unfolding before them. The three actors on stage can squeeze some nervous laughter from the audience but this is not a comedy. BLASTED is an extraordinary moment of insight, of human behavior, that proves Kane’s eerie argument is not far from happening over and over. The hope is a brief moment as the story fades to black. Shotgun Players now 26 years old continues to bring their audiecnes to the edge with only the best work in American Theatre, and BLASTED is on that list. Next up Season 26 closes with BLACK RIDER by Burroughs Waits, that opens November 9th. In the meantime do not miss BLASTED the most important theatre experience on a Bay Area stage this fall.
SHOTGUN PLAYERS PRESENTS
By Sarah Kane
Directed by Jon Tracy
Production team; Nina Ball, Heather Basarab, Miyuki Biertein, Devon Labelle, Christian Larson, Ekena Wright and Dave Maier.
Must Close October 22nd
1901 Ashby Avenue,
at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Berkeley, Ca
Running time 1 hour 40 min
Blasted is 90 minutes long with no intermission and heavy use of graphic language, sexual violence, and disturbing imagery.
Audience members must be 18 or older to attend.
*Interview with Sarah Kane THE UK Independant David Benedict Sunday 22 January 1995
TRAILER FOR BLASTED
INTERVIEW WITH KANE