Presenting a play like Sarah Kane’s Blasted, that critics went as far as describing as a “disgusting feast of filth” when it was first produced, is not without its risks. For Pi Theatre’s Richard Wolfe though it is a calculated risk.
“There are few plays that have caused this kind of stir,” says Wolfe. “With the twentieth anniversary of the piece, I thought it was a good tie-in for Pi Theatre’s thirtieth anniversary and a good addition to the continuum of our shows.”
Wolfe is well aware of the show’s potential impact, but is confident that Vancouver audiences are ready. With a little help.
“We’re setting up our lounge similar to what we did with Terminus, where the audience can gather after watching Blasted and chill and talk,” says Wolfe.
In a show like Blasted, with its visceral mix of violence and sex, it isn’t surprising that Wolfe is looking to do a little audience hand holding, especially with a show that he admits scared him a little at first, and one that he is still unsure how Vancouver audiences will react to.
“Now this is a big generalization, but Vancouver theatre and audiences are fairly cautious,” says Wolfe. “What we are trying to do is to create a congregation of people that want this type of theatre. We want to build up an audience that is willing to go to come see this type of show.”
Admitting that Blasted remains a bit of an experiment, even for Pi Theatre, one thing that Wolfe is sure of is the power that still exists within Blasted.
“I am hopeful that people are still affected by it and recognize the compassion that will ultimately save us from going down the road to perpetual war,” he says. “We need to very conscious that war is not pretty, and we need to see each other as human beings and react with compassion, or we will continue to dehumanize our lives and commit violence.”
Part of that dehumanization comes from popular culture, where television and movies have desensitized many to the horrors of real violence and war.
“Nothing that happens in this play hasn’t already happened in a show like Game of Thrones,” says Wolfe. “Since we seem to be trapped in this perpetual war, or at least well down the road to one, I feel that this is a good time for this piece, as it gives us a sense of the realities of war that isn’t romanticized and sterile.”
Interestingly enough, despite the popularity of television and films where the juxtaposition of sex and violence can be at times relentless, and a multitude more graphic than what is usually portrayed on stage, Wolfe believes that the live stage experience can still be a scary proposition for many.
“People are generally afraid, because theatre is live and that has more impact than a film. It is curious because Vancouver is a city of film and a lot of the content in films is very challenging and people will go. Why don’t they take a chance on theatre? I’m not entirely sure.”
One theory is that the intimacy of live theatre is not the same as watching a movie. “People have told me that they feel intimated because they can’t leave during a show like they can during a movie,” he says.
In curating their audience, and helping them after it concludes through dialogue, Wolfe is hopeful that the fear will disappear, or at the very least be reduced.
“We want truth in advertising, and Blasted is intense and it is provocative, but it is still compelling theatre,” he says. “Originally the critics were a little disturbed by its naturalistic first half and a second half that is highly theatrical. In terms of form they were put off by that. I hope we are a little past that now.”
Blasted plays at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Granville Island, Vancouver) April 10-25. Visit http://pitheatre.com for tickets and information.