efstar seakae adds butoh to haunting '4.48 Psychosis'

Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2004

Five years after British playwright Sarah Kane hanged herself at age 28 in London's King's College Hospital, theater critics are still split over the legacy of her short career.

Some merely view her dark, morbid plays as extensions of her own life, pocked with mental illness, voluntary hospital stays and repeated attempts at suicide.

Others praise her abstract and existential work for bending traditional dramatic techniques and form, while playing homage to classical writers - Samuel Beckett above all.

Kane (1971-1999) wrote much of her final play, "4.48 Psychosis," while staying in institutions. It premiered publicly in June 2000, 16 months after her suicide. Written in free verse, "Psychosis" chronicles the suicidal despair of a character (Corle LaForce) as she wrestles with her doctor, her mother and her inner self (all played by Liz Clement).

efstar seakae, an independent theater company co-founded by former Perseverance Theatre intern Gretchen Drew, will present "Psychosis" for a three-night run.

The play shows at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 16-18, in Perseverance Theatre's Phoenix Room, directly to the left of the front doors. Seating is limited, admission is free and donations will be accepted. The project is supported by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council and the City and Borough of Juneau.

"She's maddeningly self-aware, the character," LaForce said. "The lines that she has are right on, and it's frustrating, because it's so bleak. If you know yourself so well, and you know what your illness is, then why are you choosing this?"

Drew was introduced to Kane by Perseverance artistic director PJ Paparelli. She read the story while helping manage the theater's presentation of "Metamorphoses."

"It was so powerful," Drew said, "and it allowed me a lot of room to explore different visual aspects."

The performance will include a series of video images projected on large screens behind Clement and LaForce.

But most notably, Drew has added butoh - an abstract dance form known for its slow, unconventional movements, white face makeup and complete lack of rules. The form originated in Japan as an expression of the horrors of World War II, then moved to Germany, where it became more an expression of angst and physicality

Drew studied butoh at Evergreen College in Olympia. Ben Coffroth, a butoh choreographer, visited Juneau to lead a community workshop and help design the movements for "Psychosis."

"The whole idea of it is to get an empty body," Drew said. "Butoh is the dance of darkness, and that's why I saw it in here. The dance reflects a certain hollow pain that occurs, and it really correlates with depression really well."

Kane herself found nothing depressing about her plays. "4.48" is said to be a reference to the time of day when she felt most alive.

"To create something beautiful about despair, or out of a feeling of despair, is for me the most hopeful, life-affirming thing a person can do," she once told theater critic Aleks Sierz, as quoted in a biography of her life at www.inyerface-theatre.com.

The term "inyerface theatre" was coined in England in the 1990s to describe a new wave of playwrights and their confrontational works. Kane was said to be one of the foremost purveyors.

"I've done a lot of theater, but nothing you would call unconventional in any sense of the word," Clement said. "And this is that for me. I wanted the challenge. And I think I also wanted to do it for some really close, cutting personal reasons, which has made it hard."

"It's been interesting doing this play, as the light has fallen and depression has come naturally to citizens of Juneau," LaForce said. "I've had to keep my distance from this play and create healthy boundaries for it, trying not to make it a mantra. It's made me be aware of my mental state and understand other people around me who suffer from depression. The one thing that I'm focusing on is bringing dignity to Sarah Kane's death."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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