Catastrophic Theatre’s “Crave” will destroy you

There are plays that are entertaining for both the audience and the actors. There are plays that challenge the audience or actors, either through the difficulty of the script or the themes that are explored; and then there’s Catastrophic Theatre’s production of Sarah Kane’s play Crave. [...]  It’s a conversation that encourages the [...] audeince member to construct his or her own story around the characters and the snippets of conversation that they seem to share. And to have a theatregoer leave with that feeling, and for that feeling to carry on for days, is an accomplishment in our easily distracted society.

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There are plays that are entertaining for both the audience and the actors. There are plays that challenge the audience or actors, either through the difficulty of the script or the themes that are explored; and then there’s Catastrophic Theatre’s production of Sarah Kane’s play Crave.

The performance doesn’t so much begin as unfold; the audience is admitted into a smoky theatre filled with a diffused light that offers little clue as to when, or even where, the play is set. It could be on a fishing pier in a British coastal town with an oddly descriptive name, like  Walton On The Naze or Broadstairs, in 1995 or it could be  inside someone’s mind. The costumes and the four actors offer few clues to the location or period of the piece–a middle aged man in a shirt and tie, a younger man in a dress shirt and jeans, a young woman in a sweater non descript pants and flip-flops and an older woman in a chiffon dress.

As the audience members take their seats the actors stare out, each reflecting a different state of emotional agitation. Director Jason Nodler chose to let the beginning of the play occur organically, with the actors starting Kane’s script after the buzz of conversation dies down, rather than creating an artificial barrier between the reality of the play and the reality of a Houston street. And once Kane’s script begins it overpowers any thought or expectation. As Ian Shuttlesworth, writing for the Financial Times, stated of a 1998 performance Kane paints “fierce, impressionistic portraits of the turbulence in human hearts.”

The impressionistic nature of the writing–four voices revealing only pieces of conversation, monologues, Biblical references or direct quotes from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land–leaves almost everything open for interpretation and debate. From who these people are, Kane’s script only identifies them as A,B,C and M, to whether the work even qualifies as a ‘play.’ Because the play lacks any recognizable plot, action and only the vaguest of characters ritics and reviewers have often likened Crave to a spoken word poem; in fact Catastrophic’s own program notes describe the piece as “a tone poem for four voices.”

Looking at only the formal elements of the piece fails to acknowledge the emotional truth in the language. To say that since there’s no clear three-act-structure, no character progression, no easily discernible climax or denouement it can’t be a play ignores the beauty of the audience participation that Kane’s writing requires. Because, at the end of the day, the thing Crave is most like, from an audience perspective, isn’t a standard piece of drama or a classic poem–it’s a partially overheard conversation. An intriguing overheard conversation that makes the listener wonder just who these people are and what they are talking about. It’s a conversation that encourages the can’t-help-but-eavesdrop-because-you’re-on-your-cell-phone-on-the-bus audeince member to construct his or her own story around the characters and the snippets of conversation that they seem to share. And to have a theatregoer leave with that feeling, and for that feeling to carry on for days, is an accomplishment in our easily distracted society.