Freehold East Hall Theater, Oddfellows Hall, 1529 10th Ave., second floor, 206-405-1612. $10-$14. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sun. Ends Fri., Dec. 20.
The first words you hear in Sarah Kane's experimental play are "You're dead to me." But nothing was dead to Kane, the late, avant-garde British playwright whose Crave is receiving its West Coast premiere—every haunting memory or motion lingered and affected every other strained millisecond. Her play is a loaded hour of sexual and romantic pain, panic, and confusion communicated by four actors (Gordon Hendrickson, Tonya Lockyer, David Hogan, and Montana Von Fliss) in a melodic fashion that suggests some kind of perverse baroque quartet.
Director Sean Ryan has this odd, non-linear word-fest looking quite sleek, with the performers posed impressively amid the stark, chic gloom of visual designer Juniper Shuey's frosty void. And Ryan has an obviously high regard for the text. Maybe too high. A little more heat and a little less lofty chill would do it some good; the production is on the money when Hendrickson belts through a breathless confession of desperate love, but loses stock the minute he and the others enunciate words like "fucking" as though they were fresh from the feathered pen in a noble poet's hand (Von Fliss, it should be noted, knows how to say "fucking" and probably comes off best, all things considered).
It isn't all Ryan's fault, for he's bravely contending with shaping Kane's difficult text. Her better musings sound at once quavering and unafraid ("what I sometimes mistake for ecstasy is simply the absence of grief"). But it's arguable whether or not she's actually made a play out of them: Each voice seems more a mouthpiece for Kane's brave but often indulgent self-analysis ("I feel nothing, nothing. I feel nothing") than a distinct character. The production, as a result, has some resonance but not enough life; it's a unique scattering of ashes.
A KAREN CARPENTER CHRISTMAS
Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., 206-325-6500. Call for days and times. Ends Sun., Dec. 22.
Writer/director Tom Ross gets points for taking the comic risk to concoct a Carpenters TV holiday special just as painfully flat and plastic as such a special would be, and this touring show from the Bay Area has a kind of loopy sweetness when it's up to that challenge.
Karen (Katie Guthorn) and Richard (Morey Goldstein, winsomely dim) tell us about their struggle to come up with a proper Christmas concept for the evening, while a parade of random guests—Tom Jones, Barbra Streisand, and a scrubby, stone-faced session musician known as "Bob, on additional keyboards"—files in for musical support (and the occasional dig at brother Carpenter's questionable sexuality).
The show plays fast and a little too loose; a lot of it gets by simply on the affectionately absurd ideas in Ross' script (you gotta love the thought of Ethel Merman singing "Silent Night"). It would've been better, perhaps, if Ross had left the staging to somebody else—even a scruffy little kitsch-fest needs someone who can step back and take a clear look at what he's got. The whole thing would be sneakier if he'd insisted on complete innocence, particularly in the campier bits; some of the performers just can't help themselves and slop the evening up a bit with muggy, knowing grins (Jo-Carol Davidson, who plays Merman, Streisand, and others, has a brassy set of lungs on her but needed to be told a firm "no" at some point in rehearsals).
One thing that nobody here laughs at, thankfully, is the music itself. The show would wither if it didn't know how purely most of us have embraced the saccharine pleasures of the Carpenters singles. Guthorn has a light touch with Karen's waning enthusiasms and, better, perfectly approximates the crushing heartbreak of her melancholy vibrato—"Rainy Days and Mondays" is as bittersweet a Christmas present as you'll ever receive.