Crave (2008)

I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the first time I read Sarah Kane’s Blasted. Her work is so powerful, so dense, it’s like drinking concentrate.

Crave’s brilliance lives on so many tightly packed levels (our production was a mere 41 minutes long) that it’s the kind of piece you need to explore with four insightful, empathetic actors. One of the only easily digestible segments of the play to a first time reader is A’s tremendous monologue. The rest of the piece is just as compelling, but the fragmentation makes it challenging to overcome. I don’t believe it would be possible to stage this play successfully in one or two weeks, even though it is a one-act.

I really wanted this production to be excellent, and to be clear, clean, and intentional. It was the first time Sarah Kane was produced in Baltimore, and I felt a certain responsibility to her. Especially because it was Kane who taught me that anything is possible on stage. There’s nothing we can’t do.

I was paralyzed for several months leading up to the play, agonizing over the all important question–do they move? Or are they stationary? In the end, it was reading several interviews that Kane, and the original director, Vicky Featherstone gave that shaped my approach. First, it amazed me that Kane considered performing the play in the dark, with just the sound of the actors. Second, I was intrigued that Kane was exploring how the rhythm would provide some of the meaning. It was easy then to dispense with movement (which was welcome after the intense staging I’d done for Richard III), and build a very tight ensemble to plumb the depths of the piece.

Crave was the first production I directed where I spent a meaningful amount of time building the ensemble. The actors play without a net, especially when there is no movement. The lines are such that it would not be hard to accidentally loop backwards or jump forward ten minutes in the production. I wanted this group to feel like they really had each other, and that if they focused in and really invested, really listened, they would forget the world and fall into the natural rhythm that Kane had created for us.

We spent a serious amount of time in rehearsal running lines until the actors could field any cue in the play and not skip a beat, and cleaning out unnecessary pauses and working out the rhythms of the tighter sections. We spent weeks at the table, talking out every possible interpretation, highlighting every ambiguity, and making sure every actor was clear on their own line through the text. I took the interpretation that A and C were linked, B and M were linked, and at one point in the script, C and M have a patient / physician relationship. Collectively we broke the play into what we considered four distinct movements, and within each movement there were smaller beats. I have rarely been as satisfied in a process as I was for Crave.

Due to scheduling, the play was in production the three weekends before Christmas. Audience response really ranged the gamut. We had people crying. We had people befuddled and bored. We had people intellectually stimulated with their own interpretation.

I’ll never forget each time I watched it, as we entered into the fourth and final movement, the entire world shifted, and I would have an intense physical reaction as each character neared release. My heart would slow, and my skin would begin to tingle as I reached release with them after the intense back and forth. I feel that we successfully found Kane’s carefully crafted rhythm, through an unburdened, focused production.

I staged the work in a 20′ by 50′ black box. We used an alley configuration with audience on both of the 20′ sides. We created a pseudo-Zen garden, to allow the actors to create the piece in a neutral space and put the focus on the text. There were 17 subtle light cues, and a sound cue at the end after the final blackout, when the lights came on after the actors had exited. I placed A and C facing each other–C on a swing, suspended, feet barely touching the ground, and A on a tower, facing her, with all the power. The two were allowed to make eye contact. B and M were facing the center of the space, but were on opposite sides of the center line, helping to highlight their fractured relationship. The closing image of the play as the lights came up was the empty space, and the swing gently swaying.

I really wanted to make sure this piece stayed with the audience, that the conversation continued, that it provoked questions and made them wonder. We didn’t use a curtain call, so as to make it more real, to no let them see the actors as actors, but to have to remember them as their characters.