In 1999, British playwright Sarah Kane, 28, fatally hanged herself by her shoelaces, 48 hours after swallowing nearly 200 sleeping pills and painkillers. A few years before, she'd become noted for some of the most viciously graphic material the modern stage has seen to date. One London critic called her Blasted, from 1995, "a disgusting piece of filth." Another reportedly got sick at the same show during a scene in which a soldier dispatches his male rape victim's eyes by sucking them out of their sockets and eating them.
Thus united, the British press branded Kane "the naughtiest girl in class," riding her for plot points that feature such fare as cannibalism, serial mutilation, pyromania and gutted genitals.
Then came Crave, fourth of Kane's five plays, which premiered in London less than a year after her death. This current Lynx Performance Theatre entry is supposedly her least explicit script, but it may give us the most penetrating look at the forces that drove her. While Kane's violence is inviting, there's no special intelligence involved in creating it. Crave is different. It relies way more on Kane's brains than her brawn, on personifications rather than roles-and it's not a play you love or hate so much as experience. In director Al Germani's hands, it's an expert portrayal of daily existence as seen by a series of irredeemably tortured souls.
Crave's four unnamed principals (played by Sonya Bender, Andrew Kennedy, Jennifer Jonassen and Jo Dempsey) have suffered blow after blow to their isolated, shattered lives. Allusions to rape, parental abandonment, pedophilia and adultery pepper their fragmented speech, which echoes everything from the Bible to ee cummings to William Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot to Crystal Gayle to Smashing Pumpkins and more. With all those different flavors, you'd think character development is out of the question. You're absolutely right. And that's exactly where Germani and his charges succeed.
They know that Crave is about aftermath, the grisly postscript to the characters' despair. These are not formerly healthy souls whose paths we trace as they're consigned to the depths. They are the depths-and Germani, a psychotherapist by trade, finds ways to tap his charges' resources accordingly. He's also mic'd the actors in a savvy show of force, the close quarters notwithstanding (I was practically sitting on Bender's eyeballs, and the other seating isn't that much less intimate). And his music bed, co-designed by Bill Kehayias, is as unrestrained as the play.
Kane wrote Crave under the pseudonym Marie Kelvedon to throw the critics off her trail. It worked. They embraced the show the way younger British theatergoers now embrace her memory. I wish I'd had the chance to take her out for a pint or two (or five) to celebrate. Turns out she was born on my 21st birthday; her friends say she was downright chivalrous amid such happy coincidences, which probably means I wouldn't have had to pay. My kinda playwright.
Even better: I'd have gotten a firsthand take on the unfortunate young woman who set the hard-core British theater press on its ear, only to come out the other side as a cult favorite with an equally hard-core fan base.
Death, especially suicide, has a way of bestowing such honors. Likewise for Lynx's Crave. If you follow this company, and if jet-black psychosocial drama is your deal, this is absolutely your show.
This review is based on the preview performance of May 4. Crave runs through June 11 at Lynx Performance Theatre, 2653-R Ariane Drive, Clairemont. $15-$20. 619-889-3190.
Can't judge a book
Scrappy, butch little Terry Logan (Jo Anne Glover) has been tossed out of the Women's Army Corps for muff-diving with a superior officer. Not to worry. She lands on both feet among some very close friends. It's the Chicago of the mid-1950s, when lesbian pulp fiction and its jazz counterpart held sway over the gay female underground. Pulp!, a MOXIE Theatre/Diversionary Theatre co-production, clears up a few misunderstandings about that literary phenomenon, with Logan as our guide.
Patricia Kane's libretto, with music by Amy Warren and Andre Pluess, turns the books' stereotypes upside down. The characters, especially Bing (Jessica John), are anything but the deviants that the novels' campy covers reflect. Co-directors Jason Southerland and Delicia Turner Sonnenberg peg them as the working stiffs they are, breathing life into a subculture we'd maybe only read about until now.
You might get a little lost if you don't have a passing acquaintanceship with this genre of novel. And John is such a breathtakingly beautiful creature that the uninitiated might find it hard to accept Bing as gay. Get past all that, and this show is a fun account of an obscure collective whose reality is as legitimate as yours and mine.
Well, yours, anyway.
Pulp! runs through June 11 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $9-$27. 619-220-0097.
Write to marty[at]edarts[dot]info and editor[at]SDcitybeat[dot]com.