The play's the thing, a sage English playwright once wrote. With due respect to Sarah Kane's brutal, ambiguous text, and the brave cast of Blasted, the major reasons to check out the British theatre troupe 19:29's production at the Hotel Mosser are the location and environment.
The weirdness begins in the lobby, where the eight theatergoers privy to each performance are outfitted with black hoods cut out with eye and mouth holes. From the moment we boarded the elevator I dug being semi-anonymous, even during a steamy Thursday matinee, though I never quite grasped the point. Perhaps the hoods encourage the audience's voyeuristic impulse, increasing our comfort level with a parade of (simulated) wankery, shagging, fellatio and buggery. Or maybe our masks were for the actors' benefit, allowing them a hairsbreadth of distance during a 90-minute piece that unfolds in incredible (and occasionally fleeting comic) proximity in a cramped, two-room suite.
We shuffled awkwardly around the suite, noting the double bed in one room and the gin and couch in the other, until Ian and Cate entered. We deduced they were the actors, for they weren't wearing hoods. He's a boozing, prematurely gray journalist; she's a young blonde waif who, we learn, was once his girlfriend. Blasted quickly shapes up as a tense, claustrophobic but familiar power play, with Cate fending off the husky Ian's sexual advances. To add even more menace and mystery, Ian displays his gun, which he carries to fend off some threat lurking in the streets below, or perhaps to end his own nihilistic existence in this nondescript hotel room.
There are obvious advantages to having the audience precede the actors into the suite, but there's one major negative: It felt as if they had to stake out and claim the space from us. Had the actors already been in the room and in mid-conversation when we arrived, our discomfort at invading their privacy -- and, eventually, witnessing their extreme vulnerability -- would have been heightened.
Heightened, however, to a point that might well have been intolerable. Directors Felix Mortimer and Susanna Davies-Crook have settled on an awkward middle ground that bows to American mainstream sensibilities and protects the actors, but undercuts the premise of both the play and its hyper-intimate staging. While I have no great need to observe strangers five or seven feet away performing sexual acts -- call me a pervert -- it rings false to simulate such acts with the audience looking over the actors' shoulders. You can't go halfway without risking looking ridiculous, and losing your grip on the paying customers