Author Topic: BackStage West Review of "Cleansed"- RGTC  (Read 10213 times)

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BackStage West Review of "Cleansed"- RGTC
« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2007, 11:11:21 PM »
CLEANSED at the Empire Theater

Reviewed By Kristina Mannion Largely reviled by critics—and deemed a "disgusting feast of filth" by one reviewer in particular—Sarah Kane's 1995 debut work, Blasted, set the British playwright squarely outside the realm of mainstream. With its disturbing imagery and explicit treatment of sex and violence, the play instantly marked Kane as a sensationalist—a stigma that earned even greater credence when Kane's second work, Cleansed, hit the stage originally in 1998. Again featuring unflinching scenes of cruelty and sexuality, this unsettling drama plumbs the horrors of love, sadism, and deadly addiction with unrelenting bleakness. And again the critics balked at Kane's creation, one of them calling it the most repellent theatregoing experience of his life.

This production proves, however, that the degree of shock or disgust generated isn't the play's most damning characteristic. On the contrary, the shock factor is the most admirable aspect of this staging. Pushing the limits of audience tolerance, director Dave Barton and his crew are a fearless bunch. They bravely bare body and soul to tell Kane's story, set at a concentration camp-like university where "inmates" are tortured for their various addictions and afflictions. The underlying theme is a twisted take on Orwell's 1984, with a disturbed doctor/drug dealer serving as the Big Brother figure. Wielding a sick power over his so-called patients, the doctor seems intent on purging them of their will to love—perhaps to avenge that he is unable to give or receive love.

But this theory is mere speculation, because Kane's script does little to connect the dots of its disjointed scenes. That's ultimately the play's most damaging characteristic. The gore and atrocities perpetrated are hardly a challenge when compared with the play's muddled metaphors and overall lack of cohesive meaning.

Nevertheless, the company creates a compellingly eerie and inhuman atmosphere in this West Coast premiere. Dawn Hess offers an appropriately prison-like set and harsh lighting design, and Barton's sound design choices are especially evocative. Of the main performers, none shy away from their obviously demanding roles, all of which require unabashed nudity. Jay Fraley is both hateful and pitiful as Tinker, the sadistic doctor; Larissa Tidwell and Scott Caster are effective as the siblings whose powerful love turns sexual; Bryan Jennings and Stephen Wagner infuse tenderness into their portrayal of a homosexual couple tortured, even mutilated, by the malevolent Tinker, and Scott Barber lends fresh innocence to Robin, the young "prisoner" punished for his naïveté. Employing the talents of these dauntless actors, a deft design plan, and Barton's haunting direction, this staging manages to underscore one of Kane's more focused themes: the kinship between love and death. Both are forms of escape, yet both are forms of ultimate torture.

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