By: Joseph Szalinski
As much as theatre echoes the tried and true, as rehearsing is paramount in mounting productions, it can also be an art form full of experimentation. And I don’t just mean improv. Works that challenge not only the mores of society, but also the art form itself, are equally powerful and important, in addition to being difficult to helm. This makes ELSEWHERE Theatre Company’s rendition of the late Sarah Kane’s play, Crave, now running at Carnegie Stage, much more remarkable.
Katy Chmura directs this particular production, bringing the infamous show to life in tandem with a terrific cast and crew. Kane’s scripts have always been controversial, usually on account of violence, but her last two works, of which Crave is one, drew attention for the subject matter while also because of their unorthodoxy. There’s no story, per se, aside from some brief narratives that are shared randomly. Even the dialogue is without much, if any, context, leaving the delivery and intonation almost totally up to the actors and Chmura. Despite traditional theatre’s ability of being able to demonstrate a director’s abilities more clearly, abstract art is still reflective of their talent and style, and this production bears Chmura’s influence.
In keeping with the unusual approaches this play warrants, there are two casts for this show, which makes for an interesting dynamic. Unfortunately, this review only covers the first cast used, which consists of A (Joe York), B (Samantha Hawk), C (Jamie Rafacz), and M (Kauleen Cloutier), characters who are then portrayed by Amanda Weber, Marisa Rose Postava, Abbie Siecinski, and Harper York, respectively. It takes a special kind of thespian to tackle a role like these. Memorizing one’s own lines in the correct order would be hard enough, let alone having to remember them in relation to the equally random lines from one’s castmates, requires a great deal of skill, and deserves commendation, especially considering the reprehensible character(s) one plays, or at least characters who discuss a multitude of reprehensible things. It’s no small feat. Another strength of the cast is their physicality, whether that’s their coordination as a group, moving in dizzying trajectories or contorting their bodies into odd postures to better elicit a response from a line or expression.
Even for being a production that relies heavily on its cast and director, the crew as just as invaluable, as they are with everything else. The stage is simple: a perimeter of lights fencing off stations of varying heights for the performers to stand on and move around. While an uncomplicated setting can allow greater accessibly, which would attract more interest in staging said show, a more basic arrangement can serve as a gauge of the technical brilliance of a company too. Working within constrictions and embracing the minimalistic elements of this show are crucial in delivering a production that stands out. Lighting and sound were also done sparingly and tastefully, elevating the performance(s). The technical aspects of the production really helped bring audiences into the world being realized onstage.
Weird theatre is important, not just for theatre itself, but also for the artistic communities and artists in the area weird theatre is done in. It’s a great change-up from an oversaturation of overdone staples, musical or otherwise. Discussions are spurred; uncomfortable ideas are mulled over; we get to exist in uncommon emotional states. Theatre is more than just escapist entertainment, it’s an experience, a way to confront the awful parts of life, and Crave most definitely echoes this.
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