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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Soho Repertory Theatre


  Marin Ireland and Reed Birney/ph:Simon Kane

Make a list of the greatest British playwrights of the late 20th century. You would surely have to include Pinter and Stoppard, right? Also, Churchill, for my money. But I'll wager that, years from now, another inevitable name on that roll will be Sarah Kane. In many parts of Europe, it already is.

The author of five enormously controversial plays before she killed herself in 1999 at the age of 28, Kane is relatively little known in the New York theater community. Her estate has permitted few productions here, which is why her first piece, Blasted, is only receiving one now, nearly 14 years after its world premiere. As it happens, that current production, at Soho Rep through November 9, is a powerfully effective one. So, with luck, it will lead to more.

With Blasted, Kane dares to draw a link between the violence of a typical rape in a Leeds hotel and the epic brutality of a civil war. Critics of the original 1995 production, fixating on the many unsavory moments of the script, accused the playwright of sensationalism. But the moment when that war comes literally crashing through the door of the hotel room is a terrible foreshadowing of a century that Kane didn't live to see. And, from a theatrical standpoint, the play's depiction of humanity reduced to its bare essentials has roots going back to Aeschylus.

The current production of Blasted is helmed by Sarah Benson, her first since she took over as Artistic Director of the Obie-winning Soho Rep. Benson assembles a fine ensemble of performers and designers to bring this frightening story to life. It's difficult to imagine many established actors willing to go the lengths that Reed Birney does in his role of Ian, a physically and morally decrepit journalist. Marin Ireland does her usual remarkarble work as a simple young woman who, against all odds, cares for Ian. And Louis Cancelmi is simply mesmerizing as a wild-eyed soldier intruding on Ian's world.

Even more outstanding is the design team. Louisa Thompson's set undergoes a jaw-dropping transformation during the course of the evening. Tyler Micoleau's lighting is outstanding throughout and works especially well in conjunction with Matt Tierney's riveting sound design.

Benson mercifully pulls back on one or two stage directions, for example, during a series of blackout tableaux showing Ian at his most reduced state. But, for the most part, she is extremely faithful to Kane's script, trusting her audiences to stay onboard. The sold-out houses at Soho Rep this fall would suggest she's right in her judgment.


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