Tuesday, September 28, 2010

28 Sep'10

Rating: 4 out of 5

As long as there are no limits to the depths of mankind's depravity -- and as anyone who follows the news will tell you, we collectively plumb new depths on a regular basis -- then it is my firm belief that playwrights should have no limits set on the depths of depravity they are allowed to explore. Charged with holding a mirror up to our civilization (and our lack of it), they have license to not only soar with our angels, but to periodically dance with our demons as well -- and that's only fair.

In her too-brief life -- a life she chose to end by her own hand -- playwright Sarah Kane danced with far more demons than most of us will ever encounter and seemingly found precious few angels dancing on the head of her pin. In fact, in her early works, like BLASTED -- which opened in its Canadian English language premiere at Buddies in Bad Times Tuesday -- she not only danced with those demons but got down on the ground and rolled around in the coals with 'em for good measure.

Set in an anonymous hotel room in Leeds, BLASTED starts out as a sleazy, sad encounter between Ian, a hard-bitten and hard-living journalist (played by David Ferry), and Cate, a (too) young and developmentally impaired naif with who he has shared a sexual dalliance (played by Michelle Monteith). Whether out of scruple or pure indifference, Ian had let their sordid little relationship lapse for awhile, but there is not much confusion about why he has lured his young victim back into his circle again -- and, not surprisingly, when she refuses his overtures, he simply takes what he wants.

With Ferry initially in fine form and playing off Monteith's superbly etched performance -- she played the same kind of damaged innocent in Nightwood's production of Kane's CRAVE -- this is very creepy stuff, bordering on the unwatchable. But, in truth, the playwright is just getting started and she's going a lot deeper into the muck before she's done. While Ian has been abusing Cate, it develops, war has broken out in the world around them -- and it arrives in their room in the form of an unnamed soldier for whom war has become a deeply personal quest for revenge. Dylan Smith tackles what is essentially a thankless and dehumanizing role with admirable ferocity.

In a world turned suddenly upside down, the victimizer is soon the victim, but Kane doesn't even stop there, spiraling further and further into the darkest corners of the human psyche to create an unflinching screed that while it may fail to plumb the full depths of depravity, certainly goes deep enough to give anyone with a conscience the bends.

Working on an appropriately anonymous set created by designer Julie Fox and lit by Kimberly Purtell, with sound by Richard Feren, Buddies artistic director Brendan Healy has created an unflinching interpretation of Kane's work. It is marred -- though certainly not undone -- by the size of Ferry's performance, which just gets bigger as the tale progresses -- regardless of the horrors visited upon his character -- until he tramples all over the single grace note that ends the show with metaphorical hobnail boots.

Reviewed here in final preview, BLASTED emerges as a commendable piece of work, which should not, for a moment be confused with recommendable piece of work. Outside of a few people currently serving life sentences, I can't think of a single person to whom this work could be recommended in good conscience. That said, if you feel you must, then you have every bit as much right to see this play as Kane had to write it.

At least, that's what I believe.

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