WET at the Little Theatre
Through Oct 3.

Somewhere along the way, British playwright Sarah Kane decided that graphic onstage violence made far less disturbing material than the trauma, passion, and despair of our actual, everyday relationships. Crave is her penultimate work—before her suicide in 1999 at age 28—and is less a play than a prose-poem about lust, longing, and repulsion, spoken in short bursts by four characters identified only by letters.

A few choice lines, in no particular order: "I hate the smell of my own family." "You look reasonably happy for someone who isn't." "There's something deeply unflattering about being desired by someone who is so drunk he can't see." "I feel nothing, nothing. I feel nothing."

Guest director Roger Bennington and the WET ensemble pack this weird text into a remarkable performance package, with fantastic work by the light, costume, and set designers. We watch the play through a live theater equivalent of film's wide-screen format. Black barriers restrict our view to the actors' heads and shoulders—unless they're falling, jumping, or being thrown inside the brilliantly white, textured walls of the boxed-in set. During the performance, we can hear a pool of water collecting at the actors' feet, and see them getting increasingly soaked as they pop in and out of our letterbox view.

Often called Kane's "chamber piece," Crave is customarily staged with actors sitting in chairs, forcing the audience to focus on her rhythmic, entrancing language. WET effectively uses design and movement to enrich the text, almost compensating for the uneven acting. (Lathrop Walker and Marya Sea Kaminski are marvelous as ambivalent, vicious lovers, but Mikano Fukaya and Marc Kenison are hit and miss.)

Like all of Kane's plays, Crave is raw, beautifully nasty, and challenging, and WET's production is visually interesting without upstaging the text. BRENDAN KILEY

Vincent in Brixton
ACT Theatre
Through Oct 2.

Full disclosure: I used to work in the ACT ticket office. I quit amicably for another job. No, I won't give them special treatment. No, I've got no vendetta against them. Yes, I once drank a little too much at an opening-night party and there was some reckless unpleasantness with a mannequin, a book of matches, and a piano. Now you know everything.

Vincent in Brixton follows Van Gogh during his days as a London art dealer, before he moved to France and started painting. The hilariously—and sometimes disastrously—blunt Dutchman moves into a Brixton boarding house because he's in love with the landlady's daughter, but quickly falls for the landlady herself, a depressive still wearing black for her 15-year-dead husband. Vincent reawakens the grieving widow and she tries to kindle the artistic spark in her young lover, with mixed results.

Vincent is three plays in one: a comedy (about the passionate, awkward Dutchman), a tragedy (about Sam Plowman, Vincent's fellow lodger and an artist who trades art college for family life), and a melodrama (about Van Gogh's affair with his widowed landlady). The maudlin widow's tale dominates the play—even though Van Gogh's transformation from teetotaling churchgoer to vagabond religious zealot, and Plowman's journey from Marxist painter to subdued family man, are much more interesting.

Appropriately, Vincent's primary virtues are visual. ACT artistic director Kurt Beattie exploits the arena layout, and scenic designer Scott Weldin cleverly peppers hints of Van Gogh paintings from The Bedroom to Night Café at Arles throughout the set. BRENDAN KILEY

Green Night
Macha Monkey at Chamber Theater
Through Sept 24.

John Kaufmann's new play Green Night is inspired by Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. You have to wade through a thicket of barely decipherable Middle English dialect to get to the plot of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but once you do, the fable is fairly transparent. (A summary is helpfully reprinted in Green Night's program.) Gawain, a knight in King Arthur's court, accepts a deadly challenge from a supernatural opponent called the Green Knight, but before he can complete the challenge, he's waylaid by a lord—actually the Green Knight in disguise—who tries to tempt him into betraying his knightly obligations. Everything about the test is highly engineered, and at the end of the poem, Gawain finds out the whole setup was the devious plot of one Morgan le Fay.

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Kaufmann's play is an extremely loose adaptation of this Arthurian romance, and he doesn't have nearly as tight a grip on the proceedings. Gawain becomes Gwen (Desiree Prewitt, who is engaging but has an unfortunate weakness for jazz hands), an employee of a weather-balloon company that researches global warming. When she's not spitting out fake science about a "mysterious meridial juncture" and making balloons "dance!," she gripes about the hostile takeover of her company by a defense contractor. Once the buyout is complete, CEO Valerie Green (a slimy Alycia Delmore) dispatches Gwen to a remote island, where she encounters a savage tribe of the ooga-chaka variety and succumbs to various temptations.

It's impossible to derive a moral from Green Night, and a fable without a moral is even more ungainly than a knight without a head. Add in dull production design (with buzzing, static video projections) and about five too many ludicrous puns ("You're making a joke. You're making a kara-jokee!"), and you've got yourself an evening of truly pointless theater. ANNIE WAGNER