There is something to be said for theatrical experiments. They can be interesting for audiences and actors alike, and sometimes they can be intensely valuable. The Cellar Theatre, particularly during the Verge Festival, with its black-box setup and plentiful supply of students willing to explore the unknown, is the perfect place for negotiations with the strange to occur.
That said, is Sam Shepherd’s Red Cross a good play? No. The script is a shamble, to put it gently. It’s a mess of excited skiing, genital parasites and land-locked swimming lessons. Red Cross is forty minutes of surrealism dialled up on eleven with no rhyme or reason. The mid-sixties pan-America vibe is inexplicable, as is the situation or plot. Little details are given, and even less is said.
However, was SUDS’ Red Cross a good night at the theatre? Yes? It certainly was a disarming night. Elements of the production were very well constructed. The white room set was well done. The soundscape, designed by Ryan Devlin, was incredibly powerful, and reached a standard seen in professional productions.
Kalka’s direction of movement in the production was another intriguing highlight, with characters moving about the stage in a controlled, well thought out and meaningful way. This turned out to be far more interesting than anything they said. Henry Hulme stood out in this regard, operating long limbs and moving in, out, and over the two single beds on the set like a demented Transformer.
Mediation of tension within the piece was hit and miss. Actors and director did all they could in the face of a script that hit shallow climactic peaks every few minutes. The audience was thrown about from nonsensical moment of low tension to nonsensical moment of high tension. It made the piece physically exhausting to watch. This is interesting in itself, and any fault really does lie with the construction of the script, not with the actors.
It’s hard to reconcile all of these good points into one cohesive whole. The only conclusion one could draw is that Red Cross was an experiment in the limits of representation, and an exercise in movement on a stage. In this sense, it was a successful experiment, as both actors and director showed the audience something they hadn’t seen before. It’s simply a shame we couldn’t have seen this wonderful team attached to a decent script.