With one critic describing Sarah Kane’s Blasted as a “disgusting feast of filth” when it was first produced twenty years ago, the intervening years has revealed the uproar doesn’t quite translate, and as a piece of drama it is simply not compelling. More disturbing, and this play’s biggest strength, lies in the possibility that despite the realities of war relentlessly broadcast into our daily lives, we have managed to desensitize ourselves to its violence.
Set inside an expensive hotel room, exquisitely detailed by set designer Drew Facey, Blasted turns the room into a battlefield that begins and ends with the relationship between the abusive Ian and the simple Cate. Along the way, Kane is relentless in introducing as much mayhem as the play’s ninety minutes can handle. From rape to cannibalism to its brutal violence, Kane’s litany of atrocities is designed to shock. But in an age of Tarantino, Grand Theft Auto and HBO, those atrocities never quite have the same impact they apparently had twenty years ago.
In our recent interview with director Richard Wolfe, he found it “odd and surprising” that there have only been two professional productions in Canada over the twenty years since the play was written. One suspects that it isn’t because Kane doesn’t have something important to say, but from a dramatic standpoint, Blasted is hardly compelling. Even with its litany of violence and sex, the play’s story never seems to be anything more than a way to introduce another note on what ultimately becomes a monotonous theme. We are never given an opportunity to feel for any of these characters, and as the mayhem continues unhindered, in what should be one of its most powerful scenes, the ending has little impact.
Where Kane does score points though, and perhaps even unintentionally given the twenty year gap, is in creating a dialogue that questions whether we have become so desensitised to images of violence, both real and imaginary, that a show like Blasted can have little impact. But even as intellectually stimulating and important as that conversation might be at its conclusion, it is not quite enough to sustain our interest in what is happening on stage.
Blasted by Sarah Kane. Directed by Richard Wolfe. A Pi Theatre production. On stage at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Granville Island) until April 25. Visit https://pitheatre.com for tickets and information.