Joe Estlack as The Soldier in Blasted by Shotgun Players. Photo: Cheshire Isaacs

Those who think that the primary purpose of theatre is to provide a light and entertaining evening out should be aware that Playwright Sarah Kane’s one-act drama Blasted is anything but that. Rather, it is an intense, painful experience, full of violent, horrific scenes that won’t be easily forgotten, even for those who would prefer to scorch the images from their minds.

Blasted opens in a modern hotel room in Leeds, England to which Ian (excellent Robert Parsons), a racist, misogynist, homophobic, alcoholic journalist in failing health has invited the younger Cate (terrific Adrienne Kaori Walters), hoping to resume the sexual relationship that he had previously ended. It is painful to observe their interactions as we watch Ian bully, malign and demean the outwardly meek but inwardly strong Cate. Their cat-and-mouse game ends with Cate succumbing to Ian’s bed, but by the end of the 100-minute play, she emerges as the stronger of the two.

Their sexual battle is merely a precursor to the devastating brutal all-out war that then overtakes their lives. After bombs explode, and the hotel room disintegrates, a soldier in full combat gear enters the hotel room (outstanding Joe Estlack). What follows are grotesque acts of atrocity and inhumanity including male rape, sucking out eyeballs and eating a dead baby. One wonders how playwright Kane could conceive of such evil, but in fact, she didn’t. The violence in Blasted was taken from actual accounts of the atrocities in the Serbo-Croatian genocide that occurred less than 30 years ago. This fact is the most terrifying and heinous aspect of Blasted.

Adrienne Walters as Cate, Robert Parsons as Ian in Blasted by Shotgun Players. Photo: Cheshire Isaacs

When Blasted was first produced in London in 1995, it received unanimously negative reviews. Since then, with more revivals, many critics have changed their minds and are now praising Kane’s poetry and talent. The drama is talked about as a vital contribution to modern theatre. Kane’s 1999 suicide at the age of 28, in a macabre way, seems to have helped resurrect her reputation.

With a tightly written, searing and dramatic text, outstanding, visceral acting and taut and unshakeable direction by Jon Tracy, this production is grotesque, haunting and unforgettable.

Shotgun Players’ warns audiences that Blasted contains heavy use of graphic language, sexual violence, loud noises, strobe lights and disturbing imagery. Audience members must be 18 or older to attend. Blasted is playing at the Ashby Stage through Oct. 22. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Shotgun Players online.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...