Up until last week I hated Sarah Kane. Thought she was anathema to the theatre and pretty much civilization in general. Well, as it turns out, I’m an idiot. An idiot who just learned a great big lesson in judging a book by a single chapter, and had his already firm belief in the power of live performance fortified. It’s been a good week.
I first came into contact with SK a few years ago while making my way through a compilation of established plays just for fun, as I am wont to do. I was having a good old time until I ran headfirst into Blasted, which was lurking somewhere in the middle of the volume. I innocently dove in and read on with growing revulsion. This play seemed to me not so much written as excreted, and caustically placed there alongside works of obvious distinction, no less. I felt as if I’d been ambushed, tricked into reading a nonsensical vomiting of someone’s problems onto paper. Surely no one had actually produced this…this…thing, had they? Fascinated by my strong reaction, I did a little research. Sarah Kane: b. 1971 Essex, d. 1999 by hanging herself in a bathroom at London’s King’s College Hospital. Leading member of the childishly monikered In-Yer-Face theatre movement in London that “shocked” the theatre out of its boring political rut. Evangelical upbringing. Lifetime depressive. Well, there you go, that explains it. I tossed Sarah Kane out of my life, which had no room for problem theatre, nor for filth for filth’s sake.
Fate disapproved, however, and brought Sarah back into my life. Over at the LSP, all the members of the ensemble are encouraged to bring in plays for group readings and production consideration at any time, and a couple of months ago one of the guys did just that with a work he’d become fascinated with. Ech. Blasted. Seriously? Fine. I suffered in silence through the read and most of the post-read discussion until, inevitably, came the dreaded “you’re uncharacteristically quiet Si-guy, what’s your take?”. My take? Vile, pornographically violent, heavy-handed, pointless, production heavy, heartless, simplistic garbage from an angry person with a selfish agenda. Thanks for bringing it in, though. Bah. Humbug. Moving on.
Stars aligned. Planes shifted. Portals opened, whatever. I was to review a play called 4.48 Psychosis, by Sarah Kane. Oh, yippee. The night arrived, along with pouring rain, a pounding headache, and the expected comps not waiting at the door. $40 lighter and 4 pounds wetter, I sit to await curtain, head in hand.
I walked from that theatre transformed. And saddened, and wiser than when I went in. Sarah’s final work is an anguished howl of pain and suffering that is utterly beautiful in the revealing of its author’s torment. The grace and ferocity of the writing is exquisite. A tortured poet who could not bear the life she had been given, she invited us into it with this piece of writing, gives us a private tour of the horrors of it, and then, with nothing left to write about, ended it. The juxtaposition of such a selfless act with such a selfish one is a jarring meditation on art that I haven’t yet begun to deal with, mostly because it scares the shit out of me. But I feel that I know a couple things now that I didn’t before: I’ve spent time in the mind of a clinically depressed suicidal and have an better insight and understanding of it (I move through the east side differently now because of it); I’ve seen the power of art forged from the truest, most private parts of the artist; and I know that one play is never a true barometer of the skill of a playwright. Won’t make that mistake again.
And I know that artists who speak their truth and write from their souls can live forever, no matter how short their time here.
I don’t have anything smart to say about this post except that it was a great read.
Thanks Ian, high praise indeed coming from you.
So beautifully put, Si.
I feel the need to share this: I have spent the last week submersed in Larry Moss, and it is always a wonderful validation that we know what we need to do. The magic of life IS in the theatre. We find our community there and learn and grow because the stories told on stage demand the highest truth. I have watched some incredibly brave actors reveal themselves through their work with no ego what-so-ever. I feel honoured to have been a part of the experience as I am whenever I am in the midst of the best of theatre where both performer and audience are giving the best of themselves. I have been humbled by the greatness around me. You are great, Si. So eloquent. I am proud to know you and read your thoughts.
Yeah, Larry’ll do that to you. Thanks Lori, I’m happy and thankful that you’re on the side of truth and beauty as well…
Sarah Kane is the only playwright I’ve ever read where I actually threw the book away from me at one point cause I was so shocked by what was on the page. That is ferocious writing.
I am saddened that I could never write like Sarah Kane….
And I’m relieved I could never write like Sarah Kane….
Wonderfully said Lindsay, you’ve beautifully summed up my feelings about her. Thanks for that.