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Crave by Sarah Kane review

The cast of StoneMarrow Theatre’s Crave. Clockwise from left: Gabriel Richardson, Sarah Emslie, Samantha Jeffrey and Alex Dawkins. Photo by Mat Simpson Photography
Crave by Sarah Kane
Directed by Perry Gratton
Backstage Theatre
Until Jan. 25

A woman says she’s pregnant. Another answers “What?” Another provides a detailed snapshot into her childhood trauma and a man laughs it off. Someone says “I love you.” Another says “kill me.” Someone answers “Is it even possible?” It’s disjointed, unsettling, raw, … it’s Sarah Kane’s Crave, and it’s hard to look away. 

As cliché as it is to say, you will never experience another performance like StoneMarrow Theatre’s interpretation of Crave. This play will make you question your own understanding of memory, depression, desire, love, failure—there aren’t enough nouns in the human language. This play is all dialogue and physical movement and watching it is like playing a game of emotional squash—with all the screaming, sweating, and bodily contortions you can imagine. 

The evening began with a bit of live music to warm up the audience’s ears and they were going to need it, considering this play only contains a few brief moments of silence and relief. It’s all about listening and deciding whose story is worth your time as there aren’t enough synapses in the human brain to understand it all. You may go silently deranged as you try to deduce what is truly going on as there’s no way to discern who is talking to whom. In fact, they all talk over one another at multiple times. Think of walking through New York’s Time Square and hearing brief snippets of conversation as you awkwardly wrestle with your own anxiety.

The set is made up of four squares, each with its own elevation so the actors can loom over and cower under one another. There’s a chair, a park bench, city steps, and milk crates aligned on each square and an invisible forcefield where the squares meet and the characters will not. The backdrop of scattered clothes lines offers a place of alleviation when the constant dialogue becomes too much. Hats of to the production designer, Elise Jason.  

As far as plot, it’s difficult to explain and definitely open to interpretation. Perhaps these people are all one in the same. Maybe they’re parts of a person’s fractured psyche. Perhaps they’re in a dream. Perhaps only a few are really present and the others are just Satan messing with everyone’s mind. Who knows. Kane clearly wrote the dialogue in frenetic bursts of mania. A monologue will increase the tension for five minutes as the audience is waiting on the edge of their seats for a conclusion … and they won’t get it. If you’re not good at taking rejection then this play may break you in 40 minutes. 

The actors—A (Alex Dawkins), B (Gabriel Richardson), C (Sarah Emslie) and M (Samantha Jeffery)—deliver every line with machine-gun velocity, and don’t give the audience time to breathe. How they don’t just collapse after 15 minutes is a marvel in itself. 

The performance can be too much for some, as I saw some of the audience member’s faces physically twist. One moment, in particular, has A delivering a monologue about how much it hurts to love while C slowly gags on her own fist. This is theatre with a capital “T” and it’s definitely not for everyone. 

However, the poetic verse of the dialogue is exposed and can be eerily relatable to anyone who feels trapped in the human condition. Simple one-liners like “What I sometimes mistake for ecstasy is simply the absence of grief” are so dexterous in summing up a whirlwind of feelings and heartfelt emotion. But for all of the despair there are brief twinkles of humour, sometimes pointed out by a subtle lighting cue. 

Crave is beautifully gut-wrenching and draining—both emotionally and physically. You’ll either talk about it with your loved ones for hours after your viewing or try to repress it. Either way, it’s worth a watch.

Crave by Sarah Kane review

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