Actions don’t always speak louder than words, as evidenced by The Side Project’s visually lackluster but verbally trenchant production of late British playwright Sarah Kane’s “Crave, ” her 1998 poetic lamentation on human cruelty and connection for four voices finally receiving its Chicago premiere. The most accessible of her surviving quintet of plays, all famous for pushing theatrical boundaries (not to mention critical buttons), “Crave”—with its fragmentary dialogue and nameless “characters”—nonetheless eschews any sense of naturalism for an abstract style that renders it the theatrical equivalent of a challenging Rorschach test. Not surprisingly, in European capitals from Paris to Berlin, Kane is considered something of a theatrical legend like Beckett. But Beckett’s linguistic arias and torrent-of-word-plays all contain an indelible image on par with their poetry, from the haunting mouth spouting out words in “Not I” to the disturbing sight of protruding heads from funeral urns in “Play.” “Crave,” with no stage directions or set designations, is carte blanche for the visual stamp of any ambitious director and designer, but that’s precisely what’s missing from The Side Project’s otherwise compelling but curiously unmoving production. Despite the Side Studio’s encompassing and arresting blood-red painted walls, this is mostly an uninspired vision of the haunting “Crave,” with minimal lighting shifts and unmemorable staging images. More of a moody, literary showcase for Kane’s penetrating dialogue than a visceral theatrical experience, this is a case of a production abundant with a poet’s ear but lacking a painter’s eye. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
The Side Studio, 1520 W. Jarvis Avenue, (773) 973-2150. Thu – Sat 8pm/Sun 7pm, $10 – $15 Through Dec 4th.