Mental shrapnel

The Wilbury Theatre Group's nihilistic 'Blasted'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  April 2, 2014

BLITHE AND THOUGHTLESS Kelly. [Photo by Brian Gagnon]

Brave or foolhardy? The Wilbury Theatre Group, with Josh Short directing, is presenting (through April 12) Sarah Kane’s controversial Blasted, a 1995 play that at the time was decried as juvenile, taken to the woodshed by critics, and flayed to shreds.

The performances are excellent, but as for the play itself, I have to join that hollering throng of ink-stained wretches scribbling their outrage.

Anguish ain’t art.

For much of it’s 90-minute-plus length, Blasted is a powerful offering, with two clearly motivated characters at odds in what they want — the essence of drama. But apparently Kane, who took her own life four years later at 28, could find no resolution honest to her experience besides showing and telling how life is a vale of tears with no exit, in which suffering and monstrous cruelty is the norm.

Artists certainly aren’t obliged to be life-affirming, but even nihilism needs a dramatic arc on stage.

We meet Ian (Alexander Cook) and Cate (Amber Kelly) when they are entering a hotel room, with him going immediately to the bottle of Gordon’s. His first words, looking around, are: “I’ve shat in better places than this.” In a lower-class English accent, of which Cate shares a version.

The first of several long pauses, thrumming with tension, occurs as he goes to the bathroom and returns with a towel around his waist, checking out a revolver. Her back to him, Cate bounces brightly on the bed. He complains about “wogs and Pakis taking over.” (He’ll later opine that Hitler “should have gotten the fags first.” It’s magic that Cook makes us care at all about him.)

Cook is tall and husky but also gives a convincing sense of vulnerability, which makes his intimidating brawn shaky, giving frail Cate a fighting chance in any ensuing conflicts. Kelly had other choices that would have worked for her character, but she makes Cate blithe and thoughtless, smiling contentment the default state she returns to after any upset, such as stammering an objection to him or collapsing in one of her fainting spell. Whenever Ian belittles her, Cate says “I’m not stupid,” which tells us that she thinks she is stupid.

Cate has come here because Ian sounded troubled when he asked her to and she felt sorry for him. He wants sex but she doesn’t, although they’d been together before, until he started hitting her.

Ian has at least a couple of reasons to feel sorry for himself. His peeking out the window with the gun indicates that someone might be after him. He has coughing fits between cigarettes and mentions in passing that he’s down to one lung. He is dying, and whether a bullet (“For things I’ve done”) or his cancer gets him first is a coin toss.

Needless to say, Cate doesn’t have a nice, romantic time with him, despite the champagne he bought. The playwright discards her for a long while, as she hides in the bathroom, replacing Cate with a Soldier (Jo-án Belanger Peralta) — the capital S making him generic — who pushes his way in and holds Ian at rifle point.

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