Any play that opens in December and isn't either aimed at children or concerned with Jesus, Santa, dreidels, or the painful memory of an unreceived Huffy Green Machine is counting on the ticket-buying power of childless atheist eggheads and other social deviants. But since Old Log's premiere of Edward Albee's Piss Christ: The Play turned out to be nothing but a dirty internet rumor, Chaos Theories Theatre has trumped all comers in the anti-Christmas sweepstakes by selecting Sarah Kane's Crave as its yuletide offering. This is a dark meditation on love, sex, and life, in which presages of the author's suicide are in plain view. Anyone easily thrown into a funk by a bummed-out play might be directed to something jollier, such as Othello (running at the Guthrie Lab through December 21).
Kane (b. 1971), who hanged herself in 1999, was a controversial and influential figure in British drama during the mid- to late '90s. During her short career, the mainstream British press routinely savaged her work, but started to come around with this '98 drama. Other critics and colleagues, including Harold Pinter and Edward Bond, considered her a brilliant iconoclast right from her 1995 debut with Blasted, which dealt with rape, cannibalism, and other subjects generally barred from teatime chat.
Strands of nonlinear narrative run through Crave, but it's more of an abstract poem than a drama. The stage is nearly bare. Four woebegone characters (identified in the program as "A, B, C, and M") sit on metal folding chairs and face the audience, even when they seem to be addressing each other. They're seated boy-girl-girl-boy, and resemble couples at times, though they might be four sides of the same brooder. Character A (Wade A. Vaughn) yearns for love, B (Eric "Pogi" Sumangil) settles for sex and booze, C (Kimberly Richardson) is haunted by visions or memories of sexual and parental abuse, and M (Elise Kuklinca) wants a child to lavish affection on.
The foursome trades exclamations, aphorisms, and plaints in rapid and rhythmic succession. There's one memorable monologue (from A, with nicely wracked work from Vaughn), but most of the text spews forth in shards. Stuff like: "I'm not a rapist, I'm a pedophile," "I feel nothing," "You look reasonably happy for someone who isn't," "I crave white on white and black, but my thoughts race in glorious Technicolor, prodding me awake," "I'm not ill, I just know life's not worth living." (I could see many of these doing well in the T-shirt department at Saint Sabrina's.)
This production, directed by Rebecca Easton, has added a movement component to Kane's play. Four dancers introduce the piece (to a soundtrack of the Pixies and other alt-rock types) and sometimes shadow the actors or offer footnotes on the text. In the interest of full disclosure, I must report that one of these dancers is a downstairs neighbor of mine, more specifically a tenant in the manselike duplex my wife and I own. (I didn't know this until the show began, and it was too late to reassign the review).
Yet it's not fear of a light rent check so much as seasonal diplomacy that compels me to say that this is one of those productions that I admired but didn't really like. For the most part, I found it intellectually interesting but emotionally flat, less profound than lugubrious--an impression aggravated by Chaos Theories' failure to draw out the script's black humor. Granted, this is a play in which "I feel nothing" is a central statement, so perhaps it should be a touch cold. But save for Vaughn's A--mysterious but corporeal--the characterizations seem reluctant to take interpretive chances with the material.
The company does excel, though, in tapping into the script's contrapuntal music. Lines bounce off each other in a disjointed conversation that seems to imagine what channel surfing would be like if all TV programs were written by Beckett, Pinter, and Joy Division's Ian Curtis. Actually, that sounds better than Crave actually is, but isn't the fact that such a scenario can be imagined proof that life is worth living?