Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Crave, Theater Ninjas

(Counter-clockwise from the left, Terence Cranendonk, Layla Schwartz, and Lucy Bredeson-Smith, and the back of Val Kozlenko's head.)

One minute, it seems like the our world is playing out in predictable and even boring ways, one day linking to the next like obedient elephants shuffling along in a line. The next minute, that same world seems like a torrent of whirling gibberish interrupted, if we’re lucky, by moments of affection, or love, or insight.

Our understanding of life is all about perspective, and how that perspective can change from one moment to the next. And in Crave by Sarah Kane, now being produced by Theater Ninjas, the world is reduced to four people who use words and thoughts like machetes to cut their way through the enveloping clutter of existence.

Free of plot and virtually absent any definable characters, Crave is a one-hour ride on an intensely theatrical Wild Mouse roller coaster, sending the audience into tight U-turns and generating plenty of intellectual G-forces. The only viable approach for the viewer is to expect nothing, absorb everything, and emerge with the rosy glow of having experienced a truly unique work.

Playwright Kane, who tragically took her own life at age 28, has become known for her plays that are drenched in violence and psychological torment. But in Crave, she takes a different approach and simply has four actors, two men and two women, deliver snatches of memories and spontaneous realizations as they briefly interact with each other and then separate, each into his or her own splendid isolation.

The words weave and writhe together, much as the actors do in this production’s art gallery setting, and we are left to pluck out the moments and the meanings as we will. Director Jeremy Paul gives this frenetic piece an odd yet effective shape and format, often keeping his actors in constant motion that has little or no relationship to what’s being said.

Among the actors who play unnamed characters, Terence Cranendonk stands out simply because of his laser focus and a yearning need to figure something, anything, out. His mini-monolog, in which he describes his relationship with a woman, is a brilliant if fleeting bit of amusing candor. Lucy Bredeson-Smith matches Cranendonk’s intensity, her face alight at different times with both grief and happiness, but mostly shadowed by confusion.

Energetic and athletic Val Kozlenko provides a helpfully visceral counterpoint to all the word gamesmanship, and Layla Schwartz offers a tenderness that seems in short supply elsewhere.

The script features puns, clich├ęs and some quasi-profound parallelism: “You’re never so powerful as when you know you’re powerless.” But there are sentences that distinctly cut through and land a punch: “Sometimes what I mistake for ecstasy is simply the absence of grief.”

But in the end it is the whole cloth here that is remarkable, the word quilt that Kane stitches together and that the Theater Ninjas deliver with telling skill and force.

Through March 8, produced by Theater Ninjas,
at the Asterisk Gallery, 2393 Professor Avenue,
Cleveland, 216-539-0662

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