The Cult of Sarah Kane
The Cult of Sarah Kane (1971-1999)
Sarah Kane has become to the theatre world what Ian Curtis of Joy Division has long been to the alternative music world: a beloved cult icon. Their darkly inspired works remain as dark and inspiring today as they did when they were first created. Both Kane and Curtis suffered from depression, and their last works (hers, 4.48 Psychosis; his, the album “Closer”) rather transparently document their unhappiness and presage their seemingly inevitable shared fate–suicide by hanging.
Unfortunately, the dramatic deaths of Kane and Curtis will forever threaten to overshadow their lifes’ works. And this is precisely why, for example, David Greig works so arduously in his introduction to the Methuen edition (2001) of Kane’s complete plays to place her work in both its contemporary and historical context. He acknowledges the connections between Kane’s plays and those of the playwrights she admired, such as Buchner, Beckett, Bond, and Barker, and he also forges an association between some themes in her work and those in Shakespeare—a claim that no doubt pleases Kane’s cult but infuriates the contemptuous camp. For instance, Blasted, like King Lear, depicts human depravity and the boundlessness of political revenge; certainly, the soldier’s sucking out and chewing up of Ian’s eyes in Kane’s play does recall Cornwall’s gouging out of Gloucester’s eyes in Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Sarah Kane’s five plays are the definition of artistic courage and vulnerability; raw, unflinching honesty; and pointed irreverence in dramatic storytelling. In Blasted, her highly controversial first play, the alcoholic journalist, Ian, exchanges horror stories with a soldier who hunts him down in his hotel room. When the soldier asks why Ian doesn’t report on the soldier’s story, Ian replies that, “This isn’t a story anyone wants to hear.” Not surprisingly, some critics have said the same about the play itself, which rampantly depicts the scatalogical, taboo, human and inhumane, from masturbation, hunger, racism, misogyny, and homophobia to excessive violence, rape, sodomy, cannibalism, murder, dismemberment, and suicide. All that in just five scenes. Kane’s deeply disturbing but undeniably thought provoking work is not for everyone, definitely not the fainthearted or weak-stomached. For anyone who has read my posts in recent weeks and followed the conversation sparked by Marsha Norman about women and playwriting–Blasted IS most definitely NOT a “girl play.”
**For those of you living or traveling to the Miami area in the new year, Gable Stage at the Biltmore will be producing the southeastern premiere of Blasted from February 20-March 21.
Look for more discussion of Kane’s plays here in the coming weeks…
Until then, to find out more about her, check out this site maintained by Iain Fisher; it’s a great resource, international in its coverage, with regular updates on upcoming productions and a healthy discussion board. According to Fisher’s site, Kane’s fifth and final play, 4:48 Psychosis, which received its first production posthumously in 2000, will be running at The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre (The Gamm) in Pawtucket, Rhode Island from 14 Jan- 7 Feb 2010. And, indeed, this is true…the Gamm production will be directed by Tony Estrella.
**Image from NYT 10/1/08