We were warned. GableStage artistic director Joe Adler has called British playwright Sarah Kane’s Blasted, “the most talked about play no one has seen.” He took every effort to warn his subscribers and audiences about the topics of those conversations: adult language, full frontal nudity, simulated sexual acts, extreme violence, rape….the list goes on.
No, Kane’s provocative drama is not for the blue-haired retirees who frequent so much of South Florida’s theater. That hasn’t stopped them from coming to the small theater in Coral Gables’ Biltmore Hotel to see what all the buzz has been about. And no one left without some sort of strong opinion.
The first of a series of five plays Kane wrote in the mid-1990s before committing suicide, Blasted at first seems like some sort of f#@$ked up commentary on dysfunctional relationships. She introduces two characters, Ian, an international journalist (and some sort of mercenary on the side), and Cate, a young, immature woman who is prone to seizures and outbursts of incessant laughter. They had a relationship of sorts once and, as the scene opens, we learn how Ian sadistically abused Cate both emotionally and sexually.
The further along the story proceeds, the more surreal turns Kane takes as the audience rides a roller coaster ride of thinly-veiled morality lessons. The Leeds, England hotel room where Ian has holed away with Cate quickly becomes a war zone in some twisted civil war cooked up by Kane. A soldier bursts in and suddenly the dysfunctional relationship between Ian and Cate finds itself in a parallel commentary to the emotional and physical scars of war. This was witnessed by the soldier with an apparent Bosnian accent (the Yugoslavian civil war was in full swing at the time).
About two-thirds of the way through, the lady sitting next to me commented, “I’m a psychologist and this is the worst play I’ve ever seen!” Some therapy might have helped Kane avert her premature end, but if her singular goal was to provoke her audience, she succeeded. They will be discussing this show for some time to come.
Blasted is only receiving its second staging in the U.S. and no company is better equipped to make sense of Kane’s schizophrenic script. Todd Allen Durkin and Betsy Graver, as Ian and Cate, deliver outstanding performances that will certainly put them in the hunt for this year’s Carbonell Awards nominations. Under the care of director Adler, the duo, along with Eric Fabregat as the soldier, never allow their characters to become caricatures.
Durkin and Fabregat display the chauvinistic bravado that gets them through each tortured day. Graver, a recent New World graduate fresh off a critically-acclaimed run in GableStage’s Farragut North last winter, pulls off perhaps the most difficult role, balancing the intellectual and psychological naïveté of an active sexual adult. Tim Connelly also deserves praise for an imaginative set that transforms almost instantly from a non-descript hotel room to a mortar-ravaged war zone.
Blasted is a far cry from Wicked, Jersey Boys and the Neil Simon plays that are packing local theaters this spring, but it is certainly the most thought-provoking. I wonder how much that psychologist charges because I haven’t been able to get that disturbing story out of my head.
By Sarah Kane
Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables
Tickets $37.50, $15 students at GableStage.com