Fringe 2011: Crave

I’m reviewing seven plays over the course of the 2011 Capital Fringe Festival, in collaboration with DC Theatre Scene. Get your Fringe button and join me!

Every heartbreaker eventually gets their heart broken. Cosmic justice, karma, the wheel of fortune – whatever you call it, the seesaw of relationships will always go from up to down and back again. But there’s a journey there, from paradise to hell and all the shades of grey in between. As Editors put it, “even an end has a start.”

Sarah Kane’s extraordinary play Crave dives into that ebb and flow, the descent from attraction to repulsion, the rise and decline of the chemistry that drives our desires. And above all, the fact that we cannot escape our pasts, that wounds don’t ever truly heal, and that maybe, just maybe, we don’t really want them to – that pain is more compelling than fulfillment.

There’s a fascinating field about micro-expressions, the almost imperceptible facial signals we give each other. One of those is contempt. It’s said that once a couple begins to express contempt for each other, however slight, that’s the start of the end. Each character in Crave goes through that kind of journey, from micro to macro until the internal rage is externalized. It should be riveting.

Unfortunately, Avalanche Theatre Company’s production of Kane’s play fails to go on that journey – it’s all macro. A quartet of coupling – Elizabeth Hansen, Christopher Herring, Joey Long, and Mary Myers – intersect with each other and the audience in a black box space with the house lights up the entire show. It’s meant perhaps to remind us that we are all capable of being like these characters, but with the actors just telegraphing emotions rather than intentions from the start – especially a loud dose of contempt – it simply alienates. They are intensely and admirably committed, but their characters’ journeys lack clarity.

That’s certainly a choice a director can make, going with a Theater of Catastrophe style, and if it was meant to be an assault, it succeeds on that level. But director Jon Jon Johnson gives his actors no where to go. It’s one note on one level for an excruciating hour or so, the same swath of contempt slashed over everyone, which has the effect of separating the audience from Kane’s exquisite text. Physically, emotionally, intentionally – everyone’s trapped, and the words were lost.

Johnson’s director’s notes state he isn’t interested in whether or not you enjoy the show. “I wish to arouse introspection. I implore you to think.” Certainly, it did make me think. I think I want to re-read the play.

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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