The Shop at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Avenue NW

Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 19 at 9:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 21 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 23 at 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 24 at 5:30 p.m.

They say: “Crave is a verbal onslaught that serves to carefully dissect and examine the darkest parts of romantic relationships. Abuse does not only come in physical form, and four scarred characters tell their story through the poetic language of Sarah Kane.”

Ali’s Take: Love hurts. And no one is more attuned to the acute pains of life than the late British playwright Sarah Kane. In Crave, Kane presents four individuals who suffer from the emotional repercussions of becoming intimate with another, and Avalanche Theatre Company takes on this difficult text with courage and gusto. Crave is a convoluted cacophony of poetic storytelling and the simple fact that the actors in this production know what they’re saying and why they’re saying it speaks volumes to director Jon Johnson’s understanding and interpretation of Kane’s words.

The stakes are about as high as they can be, and the four actors attack the dialogue with varying degrees of success. At times the acting is bombastic, filled with force but lacking the subtle pain of true emotion. Yet other parts of Crave are marked by brutal honesty, inviting the audience to witness the private moments of deep suffering endured by each character. The Shop is a well-matched venue for this production, with audience seated in the round on multiple levels. We feel a little like Roman plebeians, spectators at the coliseum waiting for the massacre of gladiators. But this is a massacre of lovers, and the emotional anguish seems almost worse than bloodshed.

The performance starts on a much-too-high level of intensity, leaving the actors nowhere to go but louder and into a more annoying state of rage. But once they settle down a few minutes into the performance, take a breath, and start connecting with each other, a magnetic charge fills the room. There are two couples presented in Crave: couple No. 1, here portrayed by Joey Long and Mary Myers, struggles with issues of commitment and trust. Couple No. 2, portrayed by Elizabeth Hansen and Christopher Herring, suffers from the woman’s crippling depression, which forbids her to accept herself as a person who could love. Or be loved. This is really the main problem for all the characters in Crave: They want so desperately to be happy but they keep tripping themselves up with their own emotional baggage.

Johnson’s staging is swift and purposeful, utilizing the playing space (bare except for four chairs) and the audience. While there is a palpable chemistry between Long and Myers, some of the physical interactions between Hansen and Herring come off as stilted. That said, the most touching moment comes from Herring as he delivers a monologue to Hansen, professing his love with tender anecdotes, such as wanting “to buy you a kitten I’d get jealous of because it would get more attention than me and keep you in bed when you have to go and cry like a baby when you finally do.” It’s a welcome respite from the angry discourse the actors hurl at each other for most of the play, and Herring handles it with delicate fervor. Other notable moments come when the characters accept their pain instead of fighting against it, such as when Long relates to the audience his loss of power through love, claiming that when “the center shifts… the balance is gone.”

Crave is short, but tightly packed with a cascade of words. Although only 80 minutes, the play seems longer because the characters undergo such a vast, painful, and repetitive journey. Avalanche Theatre Company has the good sense to get out of Kane’s way and let the words be heard. This is definitely not a joyride, and those looking for escapism should stay away. Strong language and even stronger emotions pervade the piece, at times drawing grimaces and looks of disgust from audience members. And yet perhaps the discomfort was also a sign of recognition, a side effect of seeing oneself in the painful recoils of love that Crave has to offer.

See it if: You’ve loved and lost and look forward to prying that wound open.

Skip it if: You’ve loved and lost and never want to think about it again.