by Jenna Rocca
Buddies in Bad Times opens its season with the daring Blasted – a violent, darkly sexual meditation on the suffering that humans can inflict on one another. It succeeds because it also observes the potential for love and tenderness that is intrinsic to human relationships.
The production slowly builds its message like a snowball. The 2-hour show has no interval, and is very deliberately and meditatively paced with incredible soundscapes filling the extended darkness between scene-changes. It reaches a crescendo in the second half, resolving itself in a mess of terror, death, and redemption.
Ian and Cate are alone in a hotel room. We don’t know why, we don’t know where, and at first we don’t even know their relationship to one another. Michelle Monteith is the soul of the production as Cate, a simple girl with a Cockney accent, who the bawdy, Welsh Ian says dresses like a “lesbos” to her face. Cate is also susceptible to seizures and blackouts when she gets too anxious. These fits are punctuated by wild and fierce attacks of laughter that could pass for hysterical tears – it’s never clear.
We’re offered the luxury of just sitting with the characters through long moments of silence as they interact with each other wordlessly: Ian drinking gin, casually handling his gun or his penis, Cate girlishly admiring and amusing herself with the novelties of the hotel room, a new experience for her.
These moments are beautifully punctuated with moments of subtle, dark physical humor and tragedy. Ian, we learn, is terminally ill and suffers dangerously long coughing fits. He is emasculated by Cate’s hysterical laughing at the sight of him naked. These moments are elegantly interwoven between the dark underlying history between the two.
It becomes clear that the romance between the two was not completely tender, and perhaps the result of Ian abusing of Cate, though she never behaves like the victim and often seems to have the upper hand. Only gradually do we learn of the horrors of what Ian does to her offstage between scenes. She does get the opportunity for retribution and seizes it.
The violence heightens with the arrival of a mysterious, starving soldier, who has some stories of his own which are more terrifying than anything that happens onstage. None of the onstage violence compares to the ideas of genocide and loss that surround them in the war-torn world outside the hotel.
Cate reappears as a bastion of hope and innocence in the darkness of physical and emotional war. At this point it is unclear how much of what is going on is happening only in Ian’s head.
By the end, the visuals of destruction and desolation are a mere echo of the characters’ psychological turmoil, resulting in very powerful show. It isn’t an easy piece, and certainly not for the faint of heart, but it’s one that is well worth seeing.
Even if just for the “will they or won’t they” suspense that surrounds the relationship between Ian and Cate.
Blasted plays at Buddies in Bad Times at 12 Alexander St. until October 17th. I have a feeling it may be extended as many performances are already sold out in the already limited seating venue. At least I hope it will be. Tickets are available at TOTix.ca
(photo of David Ferry by Omer Yukseker)