So, letâ€™s see where we should begin talking about "Phaedraâ€™s Love," the shocking play by British playwright Sarah Kane, whichÂ the World Stage Theatre CompanyÂ opened Friday night at an empty store space at Grand Avenue Mall.
Letâ€™s start with the fact that Kane, who committed suicide in 1999 at 28, killed herself in a hospital where she was being treated for depression. She was then, and even still now, regarded as "Lâ€™enfant terrible" of the world of British theater. She wrote this play as a modern reworking of Seneca's ancient story "Phaedra."
So, weâ€™ve got that out of the way. Next letâ€™s look at the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, wrath, envy and pride.Â This play has six of the seven, with envy somehow getting a pass.
But itâ€™s not just those sins that make up the play. We also have incest, oral sex, rape, masturbation, mutilation, mob violence, suicide (twice) and even a little bit of masochism. We also hear almost every swear word on the list of things you shouldnâ€™t say in mixed company.
Sounds like your basic Friday night at the theater, huh?
This is the story of Phaedra, the second wife of Theseus. Strophe is her daughter, a princess; Hippolytus is his son, a prince.
Phaedra is in love with her stepson, who is a lazy sloth for whom the only joys seem to be television, food, masturbation and a remote controlled truck.Â Strophe warns her mother not to get involved with her stepson, and she knows whereof she speaks, since she also had sex with him. She also had sex with her stepfather.
Phaedra finally hooks up with Hippolytus with a scene of simulated (Iâ€™m sure) oral sex. Afterward, he tells her that he doesnâ€™t love her at all and that her husband slept with her daughter on their wedding night. Distressed, Phaedra kills herself, leaving a note that claims Hippolytus raped her. He leaves the palace and finds a place with a priest who ends up giving oral sex (simulated, Iâ€™m also sure) to Hippolytus.Â
We then move to the final scene where a mob is urged on by Theseus to kill Hippolytus to punish him for the rape. While they kill him and debowel him in sickening graphic detail, Theseus rapes the daughter, then kills her before killing himself.
And, hi ho, hi ho, itâ€™s off back home we go.
"Phaedra's Love" is supposed to reflect Kaneâ€™s bleak view of humanity, royalty and just about everything else.Â Director Leda Hoffmann jumped into this thing with both feet and staged a play that was bound to shock with a core of good actors.
Let me be clear here: I donâ€™t mind shock. I donâ€™t mind graphic sex and language in the world of theatre.Â But toward the end of this play, when fake bowels were being pulled from a character's body, I found myself almost laughing out loud.
Somewhere in this play Iâ€™m sure that a crowd more artsy than I can find some deep meaning and some scathing commentary on the world. For me, however, whatever that meaning was got buried under the gratuitous sex and violence. I guess it was shocking. But at the end it seemed like all of the shock did nothing but prevent the cast from looking deeper for some kind of real meaning.
The thing about shock is that you canâ€™t let it become THE thing about the play. It can be a thing, but not the only thing. And in "Phaedra's Love," the shock is all we are left with and at the end, the shock isnâ€™t even all that shocking.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Jan. 25, 2015
Nothing entertains like a great love story with a murderous ending, and that's what you get in "The Kreutzer Sonata" at Renaissance Theaterworks. The one man play starring James Pickering is a story you won't soon forget.
Published Jan. 24, 2015
The Milwaukee Rep opened "Good People" Friday night and gives it a spectacular production, looking at where we come from, where we go, and how we either get there or don't.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Sources have confirmed that Governor Scott Walker has decided to include the "jock tax" revenues in his budget to help fund the new arena in downtown Milwaukee.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Cyndi Przybylski is a software engineer at Rockwell, but she has been bitten by the theater bug. She is taking a scientific approach to it all, realizing that she has a lot to learn and seems ready to learn it.
Published Jan. 23, 2015
Sam Shepard's "True West" is a tale of brothers, joined by blood and driven apart by everything else in their lives. Alchemist Theater gives it a daring and bold production until the end of the month.
Published Jan. 22, 2015
Capt. Dave Salazar of the Milwaukee Police Department supervises the intelligence gathering efforts to try and keep terrorist activities at bay. It's a job that requires lots of cooperation from various agencies, and from the general public.
Published Jan. 20, 2015
Finding the right words for what happened to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday is a challenging task, and I was struggling with it. Enter Brent Hazelton, the Associate Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Rep. He had a Facebook post that captures just about everything I was feeling. I am pleased to share it with you here.
Published Jan. 19, 2015
"The Beautiful Music All Around Us" is a long and involved journey through the early days of American folk music. The problem is that the whole thing, with Stephen Wade as the professor, seems more like a college lecture than a night of theatrical entertainment.
Published Jan. 18, 2015
Life for the new kid in a high school can be tough especially if that kid is a little bit unlike the other kids in school. Stargirl is clearly different, but she stays true to herself and find unlikely truths in her new classmates in the First Stage production.
Published Jan. 17, 2015
The play by Sharr White at Madison's Forward Theater Company is a spectacular production of a play fraught with difficult situations and one that strikes home for each of us. We each have "The Other Place" and what waits for us there is part of the joy of living.