Blasted

Union Garage

Through March 13.
In the last two years, experimental British playwright Sarah Kane has been creeping into Seattle theaters. Last year, VIA brought her lyrical, emotionally brutal Crave to the Oddfellows Hall, and now the Union Garage presents the all-around brutal Blasted.

Kane, who killed herself in 1999, had a strange career. Critics initially excoriated her "filth," then posthumously dubbed her a genius. She is a dark darling of the avant-garde, has a cult-like following, and is just beginning to be produced on the West Coast. So what's all the fuss about?

1. Her work is spectacularly sick, and the cannibalism, rape, and bloodletting are the least of it. Emotionally deformed fallen angels, the characters' inner lives are Kane's most harrowing bits. At once allegorical and deeply human, her monsters are horrible, instructive, and moving.

2. She has an impeccably precise ear for language, pushing her dialogue in powerfully poetic directions while maintaining tight dramatic tension.

3. Kane is a scorching satirist. She inflates small social frictions, carrying them to their grotesque logical conclusions: A little machismo multiplies into bloody-minded misogyny and the odd ethnic slur portends total race war. One might be tempted to dismiss her as overly shrill, but that's where watching the audience can come in handy--especially the flock of loud, corpulent Russians who sat next to me.

The Russians were obnoxious but instructive, cracking jokes and sniggering as Blasted's innocent girl was being debased. But when her rapist was raped in turn, they grunted disgustedly, covering their eyes, unable to bear the spectacle. Sex, sexism, double standards--they were all right there, instant proof that Kane is on to something.

So how was Blasted? Spectacular, crass, and funny in a genital-mutilation kind of way. The first half is a macabre courtship between innocence and experience--a sweet, stuttering, thumb-sucking angel and an alcoholic, racist, chain-smoking journalist. The second half mirrors the first, with the journalist twistedly playing innocence to a "nigger" soldier's even more horrible, violent experience.

Director Matt Fontaine has got the visual horror down, but I would've liked the very capable actors pushed even further into the nasty and brutish world Kane wants us to face up to. Of course, as Blasted plays now, there were fidgeters, prudes, and walkouts, but fuck 'em--this is theater-lover's theater, with teeth and claws. It's well worth watching if you can stomach the ride. BRENDAN KILEY

Macbeth

Ghost Light Theatricals at Freehold's East Hall Theatre

Through March 13.
Cellular phones, digital cameras, power suits, talk shows, automatic guns, and the Internet are the props and background for Ghost Light Theatrical's Macbeth. The English is still Shakespeare's, but the world is our world of global telecommunication systems. On stage are three large TV monitors whose images at times correspond with or remark on a scene. Obviously, there are similarities, both political and technological, between this Macbeth and Empty Space Theatre's recent production of 1984. But where 1984 succeeded on both accounts, Macbeth fails. Parallels between present-day America (the PATRIOT Act and the War on Terror) and Orwell's imagined England (Big Brother and its war economy) are easy to recognize, but links between Macbeth and our society, or even our president, are not so evident, if they exist at all. Macbeth/Mugabe--yes; Macbeth/Putin--maybe; Macbeth/Bush--no. Moreover, 1984 integrated its media technology to the point of complete reliance; with Macbeth, the removal of the monitors would not have impacted the substance of the play, which in itself was not remarkable. Though Eric Breedlove offers a dreamy Macbeth, and Rik Deskin's witch/cameraman occasionally arouses the audience from indifference, the general temperature of the performance never rose above lukewarm. CHARLES MUDEDE

Elephants Are Contagious

Strike Anywhere Productions at JEM Arts Center

Through March 28.
There is a point when actors are not only young and sexy, but will also throw themselves with abandon and commitment into any project, no matter how ridiculous or ill-advised--like, for example, a series of seven playlets inspired by surrealist paintings. As texts, the pieces of Elephants Are Contagious are a mixed bag; each script has appealing moments or a startling turn, but a little surreality goes a long way. Undaunted, the exuberant cast and the spare but inventive direction of Sherrine Azab (who conceived the show but did not write any of the pieces) keep things fresh and engaging. The poverty of the production serves it well--the rough circumstances of the concrete floor and bare-bones lighting dilute any possible pretentiousness and contrast effectively with the whimsy of the strongest pieces (my favorites: a dreamer divining the contents of dead letters and a young girl searching for the dolls her prim mother has stolen away). Even better are the flirty, goofball bits between the plays--swift, silly, charming, and gone while we still want more. An evening in this hole-in-the-wall performance space in Georgetown won't change your life, but it will provide an enjoyable diversion. BRET FETZER

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