Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting Blasted at Soho Rep

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.


Aaron Riccio said...

You can read into the small kindness at the end of "Blasted" however you like, but whether it's hopeful or cruel is just a matter of perspective. However, Ian's gun isn't empty--it is EMPTIED, by Cate. She wants him to live, and while I thought it was out of cruelty at first, by having her return at the end, to feed and more or less baby him... Doesn't that say something about what Kane believes we NEED out of life? We can survive all the nastiness, the blasted, scorched set, so long as we have someone or something to live for. And isn't that hopeful?

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Indeed, it can be interpreted as hopeful, but my take is that they are locked in hell. Is it so great to survive in hell? And does being there with someone else change anything?

Smith said...

My first response to the final moment was that it was hopeful, because it was an act of kindness from Cate to Ian. But then I realized that throughout the entire play, we have seen Cate attempt to be kind to Ian, but we have never seen Ian attempt to be kind to anyone. So I'm not sure there is any kind of redemption in the final moment -- maybe it's just more of the same unpleasant dynamic where Cate gives, and Ian receives, but never gives back.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I had not thought of that, and it's a very good point. Cate and Ian's dance of death continues forever and ever. And that's a hopeful ending…?

Catofadifferentcolor said...

I really like your reviews in the NY Post. I never saw BLASTED. I attended a talk by the director of Blasted Sarah Benson, last night and she spoke often about that production. I was curious. She mentioned that Lincoln center had a tape of it. From what I could tell about Sarah Benson, she seems to have lots of integrity and passion and is very smart. I found her very likable and I admire her ethics. That said, after reading what you wrote about Blasted, I am so very glad not to have seen it. I won't be traipsing up to Lincoln Center to see for my very own self what the fuss was about. I hardly like "Waiting For Godot. It is so funny to me how people will praise something that makes them want to throw up. I think sometimes audiences think it is good for themselves to be revolted and made to feel just awful. As if it is some kind of purification or testament to their ability to withstand such horror. I am so grateful to you for saying the Emperor has no clothes and has been making people eat excrement as well.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

What you write is interesting, because I actually admire the show. My point was that some reviewers tried to find shreds of positivity in a show that has none -- because contrary to what you write in the comment, audiences do want to hang on to a sliver of hope. They do not want this utter bleakness! So saying there's a light at the end of Sarah Kane's tunnel is misleading.