In the words of A, “I keep trying to understand but I don’t.” Sarah Kane’s “Crave” is truly mysterious. The script itself includes only four characters of unspecified genders, identified only by initials — A, B, C and M — and this difficult casting is just the tip of the play’s idiosyncratic iceberg. Essentially plotless, Kane’s play requires a talented cast and production team if it is to make any sense at all.
Kane gives no stage directions beyond occasional interrupting lines of dialogue, and the vagueness of the piece itself makes the work of the director, Hansol Jung, even more impressive. In Jung’s interpretation, the character of M is a tortured writer struggling to create, and A, B and C, clad in white, are the voices in her head. They begin offstage in their respective areas — B on one side of the room, hidden behind a black curtain; A far down the same wall, behind a paper screen; and C, occasionally emerging from a large trashcan à la Oscar the Grouch — and slowly emerge into the scene. Their developing physical presence echoes their growing prevalence in the writer’s head. At first, their recorded voices are only heard projected over a speaker, but ultimately, as the actors themselves come into the scene, their characters become realer to M, and begin to physically interact with her and each other. By the play’s end, their physical presence is as real as M’s is — they engage in hair-pulling, paper-throwing and even an onstage kiss.
As is true in any cabaret, the audience is ever present in this action. When I was shown to my seat, the usher warned me to keep my legs out of the aisle, but despite my attempts at noninterference, about halfway through the production, character C clung to my arm as she moaned, “No one can hate me more than I hate myself.” In a similar instance, everyone roared with laughter as character A directed his line, “There’re worse things than being fat and 50” to a balding member of the audience. Throughout the production, the juxtaposition of well-dressed adults dining on lamb tagine and tortured drama students — who yelled out lines like “Rape me,” and “Satan, my lord, I am yours” — adds even more to the metaliterary elements of the production.
Beyond just its venue, the show’s staging is impressive. When characters begin to discuss maggots, for example, images of crawling white larvae are projected on the walls. When character C declares, “No records,” M begins to feed pages through shredders, and the resulting confetti is dropped on audience members at three separate locations in the theater. M throws a paper airplane as she discusses a vision she has had of an inevitable plane crash. An alarm sound blares periodically. With these technological and creative staging instructions, Jung uses Kane’s lack of specific instructions to her advantage.
The four actors — Helen Jaksch DRA ’15 (M), Taylor Barfield ’16 (A), David Clauson ’16 (B) and Ashley Chang ’16 (C) — also impressed in their challenging roles. The sole four cast members were fully dedicated to their respective identities, and took often outlandish actions in order to fulfill their director’s vision. At one point, Chang takes a napkin off an audience member’s table to mime wiping her bowels. Clauson slowly emerges from a paper screen as if from a womb. And Barfield, even in his extended monologues, managed to keep the audience engaged and amused.
Despite the dedication and talent of the cast and crew, “Crave”, at least to me, remains incomprehensible. Kane expects a lot from her audience, inserting occasional phrases in Spanish, Serbo-Croatian and German, and multiple allusions to T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, the Bible and Camus. Though it touches on many rousing topics — rape, incest, suicide, adultery — these never rise to the level of themes, and so “Crave” ultimately feels aimless. The work is at times funny and at times poignant, but often random — as in the moment when all four characters inexplicably recite a series of nine digits. It often feels like the characters, instead of interacting with each other, are having conversations with themselves or perhaps unseen companions. One section consists only of seemingly patternless exclamations of “Yes” and “No,” ultimately evolving into what Kane describes in the script as “short one syllable screams.” But hey — as M, a writer herself, informs the audience, “If this makes no sense then you understand perfectly.”