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by Kilian Melloy
Sunday Sep 4, 2016
Alexis Scheer, Christopher James Webb, and Maurice Emmanuel Parent star in 'Blasted,' continuing through Sept. 18 at the BCA
Alexis Scheer, Christopher James Webb, and Maurice Emmanuel Parent star in 'Blasted,' continuing through Sept. 18 at the BCA  (Source:Omar Robinson)

Though Sara Kane's play "Blasted" was reviled upon its 1995 premiere in London, critical opinion of the piece has shifted over the last two decades. Seeing it now, in Off the Grid's production at the Boston Center for the Arts (in a limited run of only ten performances, through Sept. 18) the 90-minute work -- presented without intermission -- is still a bleak and challenging experience, fraught with intense violence both emotional and physical.

Looking for a story or a plot in this highly surrealistic work might well be an exercise akin to taking a Rorschach test -- what you see in the play speaks as much to the ancient furnishings of your own subconscious as to Kane's intent -- but this much seems clear: The play is, at least initially, about a pair of former lovers, a journalist called Ian (Christopher James Webb) and his ex-girlfriend Cate (Alexis Scheer), whose ill-advised reunion in a hotel room in Leeds, England, is certain to lead to sexual excesses and psychological decimation. (The set design, by Ryan Bates, reflects this, starting as a handsomely appointed room and ending as a shambles.)

The first third of the play seems normal enough, an erotically charged push and pull between the exes that's spiked with both pathos and detestation, and which is full of intimations of larger and more dramatic twists to come. Ian has drunk himself to the verge of death; he's also acting paranoid, toting a gun and hinting that shadowy forces are closing in on him (an indirect reason, he claims, for him having broken off their relationship some time before). Cate seemingly can't decide whether she returns the love Ian repeatedly professes to her; when her emotions crescendo, she has fainting fits, and her demeanor veers erratically from vulnerable and wounded to wildly fearless to coldly disdainful. After the two finally do make love, Ian, overcome by paint and a coughing jag, collapses to the floor; observing him from the bed, Cate offers only a contemptuous vulgarity.

But then a third character enters the affray, a soldier (Maurice Emmanuel Parent) who seems transplanted straight from some warring nation on a different continent. Where are we? Still in Leeds? The soldier speaks of the English as though Ian is an interloper, and speaks of atrocities out in the streets that make it sound like Leeds has suddenly been overrun by child soldiers and guerrillas. This is, to put it mildly, improbable; is Ian having delirium tremens or perhaps a flashback to some adventure in war reporting? Is Cate, locked in the bathroom and enjoying a soak in the tub, part of whatever is going on? Does the soldier represent the hateful, violent part of Ian and Cate's complicated emotional co-dependence?

What happens next is a flurry of insane brutality. There's a reason they warn you, upon purchase of your ticket to this show, that it contains situations that are for mature -- and fairly unflappable -- audiences. Suffice it to say that once the play tips into the surreal, the only way out is through... and there's no guarantee that "through" is even an option, because the deeper you go with Kane into this labyrinthine tale that less certain everything seems. Place? Time? Those become variables rather than settings, far from constant or stable. Jeff Adelberg's lighting and David Reiffel's sound design underscore that sense of having become unanchored from all normalcy.

But don't get the idea that the play, for all its horrors, is mere chaos. There's structure to its progress, though it's unflinching and unfriendly. There's a purpose here, too, and you sense it plainly -- though again, just what it means might say more about you, as you make your interpretations, than it says about the play.

Feeling lucky? Well, the glove has been thrown down and the gauntlet prepared. Take your chances, if you dare.

"Blasted" continues through Sept. 18 at the Boston Center for the Arts. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.offthegridtheatre.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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