CRAVE by Sarah Kane, directed by Jennifer Tarver (Nightwood). At the Young Centre (55 Mill). To May 19. $10-$32. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Nightwood Theatre's production of Crave lasts a mere 55 minutes, but it's more theatrical and gripping than most shows twice or three times that length.
The late Brit playwright Sarah Kane's 1999 play deals with abuse, mental illness, addiction and recovery, yet those words feel inadequate to describe what she's done here. Even the word "play" falls short.
It's essentially a poetic suite for four characters, each named after a letter of the alphabet (A, B, C and M). Limited to a coldly claustrophobic 3-foot-square playing area, each character confronts the audience, him- or herself and the others, and the text comes alive with motifs, hidden dramas and tense histories.
You need a confident director and four superb actors to control this material, and Jennifer Tarver does a spectacular job of suggesting links and relationships without being reductive.
The two men (Hardee T. Lineham, blustering and defensive; Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, passionate) and two women (Maria Ricossa, all-controlling; Michelle Monteith, bruised and vulnerable) could be older and younger versions of the same person; all four of them could be facets of one wounded, lonely ego.
The design is an integral part of the work. Teresa Przybylski's geometric set, which resembles a folded screen, shows us four souls literally trapped in separate corners, and their attempts to communicate can be both heartbreaking and terrifying. Kimberly Purtell's lighting works superbly to suggest story and mood.
Tarver could direct a page of the phone book and have you bolted to your seat. Luckily, she's got more compelling material in Crave, one of the best shows of the season.