Thursday, February 08, 2007

Kane's Crave Meets Critic

Peter Marks reviews Sarah Kane's Crave, being given a production at Signature in Washington D.C. Here he highlights one of the issues with Kane's work that appears in reviews again and again. (And was my impression when I had seen a production of Crave.):

"You trust that the jump from thought to disjointed thought is organized with an interior logic, one that might better be discerned through a closer examination of the text. We don't have that luxury in a theater, so you have to rely on the acumen of the director and the actors to illuminate intuitively what the playwright does not."

Ben Brantley, (reviewing a 2000 production of Crave in the New York Times,) and Marks, seem to suggest that the direction to have the actors acknowledge each other, even glancingly, seems "artificial."

Brantley points out:

"But having the actors, who stand through the whole of the hourlong performance, turn to each other and make contact, as they sometimes do, seems too literal-minded; it focuses attention on the wrong things, like the possibility of a plot."

Their suggestion is correct, in my opinion. Trying to find traditional dramatic ways to make Kane's work accessible may defeat the point.

After all, non-narrative theatre can be, as Mark's concedes: " a bracing antidote to the kinds of plays that are ever more attuned to the formulaic strictures of movies and television -- "

Marks seems tentative. He finds the poetry powerful, but is wondering if it is really theatre. He knows that we are in the realm of theatre that can leave a large portion of the theatregoing public in the cold.

Kane's work defies the daily reviewer's mission to keep purse strings safely snug. If theatre such as Kane's is meant to a deeply individual experience, then how can a consumer guide possibly have aesthetic integrity while still having the general public in mind?

I can read "No Coward Soul is Mine" and feel as if I am having a conversation with Emily Bronte, but I am also in communion with a larger cosmos. Does Kane's work have a similar effect? Does it want to?

With Kane's writing I cannot deny it's talent and her skill, but when I try to absorb the larger themes it always, always comes back to her death. Not Death, not Suicide, in the abstract, but specifically her death.

Especially with Crave And Psychosis 4:48, many critics will mention, as Marks does here, that you can't help but thinking you are hearing parts of a suicide note. I will venture to say it is because you are.

It is difficult and probably takes a more mature critical mind than mine to sort this all out, or maybe to set aside this fact of her death, but it is the truth with respect to her writing. And there, I believe, is the danger. The death cult of Kane's celebrity has always creeped me out a bit, and everytime I read the inevitable phrase about "suicide notes," it makes me shiver.

James Wood writes, (in a review of Michel Hollenbeq's latest work,) that the nihilist's talent " is to stain very large swatches of life to the point where all other contemporary writing is rendered sentimentalist."

To seriously consider Kane's work, you have to get past that particular barrier. But the problem is that after surmounting that bulwark, we are immediately impeded with another wide chasm presented by her own relentless obsessiveness. This requires even more agility. Her illness and her death hang over the plays so much that it can become easy to give the work praise for her showing us what it is really like to be in a depressed mind. This may not be helpful. It is almost a cop out.

Alex Sierz, of In Yer Face theatre, writes:

"But while it's easy to appreciate those aspects of Kane's work which smack of genius - the compression, the compassion and the sincerity of her sensibility - the personal tragedy of her life should not be an excuse for failing to criticise her work. For while her writing is undeniably powerful, its range is also extremely limited and narrow, even obsessive."

By the way, my musings above are more related to her later writings. I have read all of her work, but I have only ever seen Crave actually performed.

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