How many of the conventional attributes of a play can be removed and still have it qualify as a play? The Single Carrot Theatre production of English playwright Sarah Kane's Crave might have you craving an answer to that question.
The four characters do not have names. They're only designated by letters printed in the program: A (Nathan A. Cooper) is a black suit-clad man seated on a lofty black platform; B (Brendan Ragan) is a black hoodie-clad man seated on a low black platform; C (Giti Jabaily) is a woman in a flowing white dress who at least gets to perch on a swing; and M (Natalie Bixby) is a woman in black pants and a white blouse seated on a low black platform. They're all barefoot.
The austere-looking quartet occupies a rectangular performance space whose floor is covered with smoothly raked white sand. They're close enough together in this existential playground that conversation seems possible, but there's just enough distance between them to make them seem isolated. In case you're wondering, they do talk. Whether they have anything meaningful to say is something you can argue about on the drive home.
They talk in furious bursts, from single words to full monologues. There are teasing hints of characterization, but the references to bad relationships don't add up to fully realized characters. They remain seated, barely move, and really don't directly converse. Even the lady in the swing hardly swings.
The coiled tension is conveyed by a fine cast under director J. Buck Jabaily, and Cooper in particular is so riled up that his spittle waters the desert sand. Kane mocks narrative expectations in this 1998 play. When one says "You could be my mother," another responds "I'm not your mother." You assume a personal link has been established, but later others recite the same lines. Their ardently uttered shards of language resemble the numerous single words painted in white on a black wall next to the sandbox.
Even so, there are moments when the focus changes and you realize this seemingly amorphous text is carefully crafted. Crave is so open to interpretation that it's an invitation for random thoughts.
Adventurous theatergoers will be intrigued by a play whose often-brutal language actually makes a poetic statement about longing. Anyway, the play's 35-minute running time returns you to whatever relationship - lousy or otherwise - you happen to be in.
Crave runs through Dec. 21 at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W. North Ave. Tickets are $12-$10. Call 443-844-9253 or go to singlecarrot.com for showtimes.