Cleansed - Wednesday 20th September
My friend was supposed to attend this production of Cleansed with me. She, instead, got very drunk off of bourbon with her roommate and had been inactive from Facebook Messenger for over 2 hours by the time we were supposed to meet outside Pact Theatre. And so, I ended up watching it alone.
Watching Cleansed alone is an experience I won’t forget – I’ll distort it, shape and reshape my memory of it for a long time. I’ll use it. It left me so deeply tired, yearning not for sleep but for some imperceptible sense of redemption. Walking home to my apartment on Enmore Road was a blur of evening time and absence.
Set in what is described as a “vaguely defined institution”, the program leaflet offered a cursory introduction to what would be a production of contradiction, transgression and rehabilitation, as the play’s dysfunctional characters navigate a contained and controlled world where they are being violently and torturously rehabilitated into forms of themselves that may be considered more acceptable by that play-world’s authority: Tinker, ‘Doctor’.
Two men, lovers. Two siblings, lovers. Two women, lovers. How much do you love them? How much are you willing to destroy yourself for the other? How much have we already died to ourselves, and if dead, how do we come back to life? Love. Impalement. Amputation. Torture. Sex. The Body. The Mind. Reality and irreality.
Opening with a shot of heroin under dim spotlight, and soon after cutting to two lovers bickering about the wearing of rings alongside the gravity of promising to ‘love forever’, the play moves in and out of scenes of both depravity and naive, saccharine love. The quickly vacillating appeals to both sensitivity and visceral disgust disorient one’s sense of presence and control, while the perpetually sublimated hum of white noise and insanely sensitive light design transport the audience to a part of the mind where only the talk of dreams can arise.
The play lacks the narrative linearity and coherence that our sensibilities crave, and instead offers – teases with – small moments of reprieve when one thinks that some fuller meaning is paddling at the fringe of comprehension. The process of rehabilitation for these characters is one of self-destruction and subverts our conventional understandings of hope being found in normalcy and control, if such concepts were to exist within our grasp. Instead, we are left with broken dialogue and no deliverance of wholesome unity. Instead, we are left to consider why we love in spite of our seeming powerlessness and vulnerability, and whether it is this precise submission to an intoxicatingly fructile feeling of you and I which allows for the mind’s forgetting of our essential, material separation.
At several points throughout the play, I found myself turning my head and closing my eyes. The radical chaos and violence of life and of time comes to fore in this play, dancing in your face, singing in your ears, swallowing you with its power and presence – manifesting in the form of scattered chocolates, scissored tongues, severed limbs, lingerie and sunflowers. What are our limbs if we are to go without love? What is my tongue if I were to live without love?
[Be back tomorrow for spirals of chaos and glee when James visits Menagerie and A Call of Cthulhu]
Written by Rebecca Ha. Image by Clare Hawley