We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

These fragments did she shore against her ruin. · 9 February 07

On one of her lists, Ellen is to read Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love. Neither she nor I knew anything of Kane, but I noticed that Signature Theater in Shirlington is producing a (slightly) later work, Crave, and that Ticketplace offered tickets to it for half-price (plus their exorbitant service charge) for tonight. So we went.

The piece is short. It runs 50 minutes. Four actors, designated A, B, C and M, perform it. A and B are male; C and M, female; A and M, older; B and C, younger. B seems to actually be named David, since both C and M call him by that name. None of the others are named. A is most often paired with C, B with M. Yes, it owes something to Beckett.

The fine structure of the piece: some sequence of lines uttered by a pair of characters could be a fragment of dialogue from a scene involving them. But such sequences overlap. A line by M might be from a dialogue with B, part of a love scene, and, at the same time, from a dialogue with C, part of a girl-talk scene. Occasionally we have fragments of monologue; rarely, all four characters could be together in a scene part of which we overhear. There is one long monologue (by A) more or less in the center of the play, but its object shifts as he speaks it. This constant shift of perspective keeps us, the audience, off balance. In some cases, we are reassured by recognizable lines borrowed from other sources: a fragment of a Shakespeare speech is distributed across B, C and M, forming parts of fragmentary dialogues between B and M and A and C; or A quotes from Aleister Crowley.

There is, I think, a larger structure to the piece formed by repeating phrases, as ritornellos in a piece of music. But it was difficult in the theater to discern this larger structure. Perhaps it’s the spoken equivalent of augenmusik.

The set was a sandpit. Sometimes the actors played with the sand. It was complexly lit. One had the feeling that the director and set and lighting designers were flailing around trying to provide physical equivalents for, physical groundings of, the evanescent language.

I do not think Crave works as a theaterpiece (though it may well read better than it plays).

A reprint of a Guardian essay by Mark Ravenhill was included in the program. He described Crave as "an attempt to find a dramatic form which would capture the highs and lows she was experiencing as her mental health deteriorated." This judgment seems right to me. Kane committed suicide roughly a year after Crave was produced.

Posted by: Jim

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  1. I’d like to add the mood of the play was one dominated by anguish, anomie. Before the play started the actors stood mostly very still on little platforms one in the middle of each of the four walls while the audience was seated. At first they looked like mannequins; then like Christ figures.

    I had a hard time following what was happening. It was as if she divvied up or took four sets of emotions that might occur to four people separately and redistributed these at random. It might have worked as a dramatic poem. In fact the "blurbs" on the wall outside the auditorium praised the piece as a dramatic poem.

    I have read that her earlier plays (e.g., Blasted) are brutal. This was not; there was little overt cruelty or aggression.

    Elinor    Feb 9, 11:53pm    #

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