After a month's delay, I finally saw Soho Rep's acclaimed production of Sarah Kane's Blasted tonight. I have no idea how the NY Times reviewer could state that "the play’s concluding moment makes clear that Ms. Kane can still see potential for goodness in people, that she hasn’t given up on life" because there is absolutely none, zero, zilch hope in Blasted.
The ending in question, coming on the heels of scenes of rape, enucleation and cannibalism (not just any cannibalism: someone chews into a dead baby) does not provide a sliver of relief. On the contrary, Kane takes Beckett's absurdism to its absolute nihilistic, inhuman limit—I found the vision of Reed Birney's character, Ian, swallowed up to his neck under his hotel room's floor strikingly reminiscent of Happy Days for instance. But accepting that this is a pitch-black vision also means accepting an absolute lack of the aforementioned goodness, and that is a prospect too unbearable for some. If you need solace, or the possibility of solace, to go on, you need to believe Kane hasn't "given up on life." (We know she had.)
She once said that the characters of Blasted are hopeful because they "continue to scrape a life out of the ruins." But that is precisely why the show is so bleak: The gun Ian tries to use to kill himself is empty. You can't escape from that hell, so you have to live in it. Kane did not try to scrape a life out of the ruins for herself: She committed suicide.
Kane also said that "to create something beautiful about despair, or out of a feeling of despair, is…the most hopeful, life-affirming thing a person can do." But this, to me, applies to what one can get out of a despairing play such as Blasted after seeing it. I did not find it depressing, for instance, unlike some of the spectacles on Broadway, with all their bloated, vulgar vanity, or the fact that the current President of the U.S. is a war criminal and most likely will get away with it.
No, Kane creates something not about despair but from despair. We answer after seeing the show, because Blasted pushes your face down into vomit and blood and pain and tears, and the only response possible is to then push your head back up and gasp for air. But this can work only if the play itself is an airless pit of bleakness. There is no exit.