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Catastrophic Theatre's Courageous Crave

The set-up: Crave is by Sarah Kane, the acclaimed British playwright who committed suicide at the age of 28, and the Catastrophic Theatre describes Crave as a tour-de-force tone poem for four voices. It's not really a tour de force and it's not especially poetic, but it does have four voices, and very good voices they are indeed. They remain seated throughout the 40-minute performance, but their body language is nonetheless expressive. Their voices rise and fall, cadence tumbling after cadence, epithets hurled like javelins, accusations spewing forth from angry mouths like bullets from a machine-gun as they vent their rage at themselves and others - Crave is a rant for four voices.

The two male voices (Greg Dean and Matthew Carter) and two female voices (Mikelle Johnson and Carolyn Houston Boone) are given no names - we are intended to create our own interpretation of who they are and what they did, but clues abound like mile markers on a marathon. Quasi-insights are provided: "Nobody survives life", for example, but the recurring theme is: "Look at me! Look at me !! Look at me!!!"

It's not giving too much away to say that the word "pedophile" hovers in the air like a bird with a broken wing, seeking to land. The characters are self-referential, concerned about themselves, about their emotions, their needs, their old age, and more prone to playing the victim than any real scrutiny of their behavior. Or any responsibility for it.

The execution: The set, by Greg Dean, is appropriately simple, wooden planks much like a pier, as though trapped in a limbo between the treacheries on land and the watery grave of the sea. The lighting design, by Kevin Taylor, frames the four chairs, creating a desired intimacy, but the footlights, though present, are inadequate - the eyes of the actors remain shrouded in darkness, and when they lean forward to gesture the entire face eludes the light.

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The work is directed by Jason Nodler at a rat-a-tat-tat pace and the actors provide it with a vengeance, but it is anger and rage that rule, not poetry. There is no wit, no catharsis, only non-linear peals of despair, cries for help from those too self-centered to process the evils of the world and get on with it, but prefer instead to remain screeching at the world in the anteroom to an asylum.

The verdict: The Catastrophic Theatre has shown its courage yet again in presenting a work so far from the ordinary, and those who cherish experimental theatre will surely want to see it.

Through June 4, Catastrophic Theatre at DiverseWorks ArtSpace, 1117 East Freeway, 713-522-2723.

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