Craving difference

Sarah Kane’s play defies a traditional approach... so how to stage it?

CRAVE by Sarah Kane, directed by Jennifer Tarver, with Carlos González-Vio, Hardee T. Lineham, Michelle Monteith and Maria Ricossa. Presented by Nightwood at the Young Centre (55 Mill). Previews from April 26, opens April 28 and runs to May 19, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm. $28-$32, srs $20, under 21 and previews $15, Monday $10. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNNNN

Sarah Kane’s crave asks its cast and audience to help pull the pieces together. Kane, the young British writer who committed suicide in 1999, wrote disturbing plays that sometimes seem more stream of consciousness than narrative.

Her last work, 4.48 Psychosis, was superbly staged as part of 2006’s SummerWorks. Now Nightwood Theatre tackles Crave, whose four characters are named simply A, B, C and M.

Reading the play is like reading T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland (and Kane quotes Eliot, along with Shakespeare and Beckett), in that you’re bombarded by shards of conversation, images and emotions linked by their own irrational logic.

It’s better to approach a text like this as if it were a body of water, immersing yourself in it and letting it wash over you.

“Viewers shouldn’t pressure themselves to ‘get it,'” says Michelle Monteith, who plays C. “It’s about what happens to you when you’re watching the play.”

“There are as many variables in parts of the script as you can imagine,” says Hardee T. Lineham, who plays A. “But director Jennifer Tarver pushed us to make decisions early on, to choose an interpretation and try to bring it to life.”

From one viewpoint, the four characters are two couples: an older woman who wants to have a child and the younger man who’s a potential father candidate, and an older man who’s a self-confessed pedophile and a young woman who has a history of abuse.

But with this sort of script, the interpretations are open-ended.

“We’ve illuminated the text for ourselves by defining the relationships somewhat differently,” says Monteith, who just finished performing in Revisited. “C has had an experience, and the play is about her trying to remember what that experience was, journeying through memory to find a release from memory.”

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“In our reading, my character, A, is a kind of narrator,” continues Lineham, a veteran stage actor who’s currently on The Jane Show. “He occasionally steps outside the action to let people know that Crave isn’t linear, isn’t the kind of show they’re used to, that things are going to be a little bit different at every turn.”

The creative process was unusual, in that Tarver asked the cast to learn their lines before the first day’s rehearsal.

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“That sheer memory work forced us to make some sense of the text,” offers Monteith. “We discovered when we got together that it didn’t always matter what you knew, but you could see connections being made between characters even if negotiations were part of that connection. The strongest thing we did was to make choices about our characters.”

“Whenever you deal with a work whose fundamental centre is grief or pain or loss, you have to take a moment to stop and look at the experience,” concludes Lineham. “Yes, life sucker-punches you, but do you accept it and lie down or put a different perspective on it?

“Maybe we can take the experience as a lesson learned and not be destroyed by it.”

There’s also a musicality to the work, a quality Tarver is orchestrating as if she were a conductor as well as a director.

“We’re playing with tones and rhythms, letting Jennifer’s outside ear tell us when something needs to be lighter or more emphatic,” Monteith says.

“The trick to performing Crave is to deliver that musicality and still keep my own sense of what I’m doing. We all have to be technically precise but completely present in the moment, although that moment might last only three lines.”

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