“Cleansed” by Oskaras Koršunovas – in Love and Dirt

2016 March 29

The goal of the play was not to tell a coherent story, but to spit out the inner dirt from the darkest depths of the soul and ask questions about the internal filth of each spectator – hence the name of the play. Or, rather, it is about radical defilement in order to become clean.

The production by Koršunovas is rather moderate in comparison with traditional Kane plays – it does not involve openly naked bodies, which many of the directors determined to analyze Sarah Kane’s work are keen on using. Koršunovas’ moderation raises doubts: perhaps the play is too different form the way Kane would have imagined it? However, it’s even comforting: often violence, sex and nudity mean no more than just the fact that they are, and have no clear explanation and justification, therefore, their value and necessity seem dubious. Contrary to other directors who set their actors running completely naked on the stage already in the first scene, Koršunovas allows the audience to concentrate on the play, its content and dynamism of the form.

Koršunovas uses a symbol from universities or other educational institutions – a blackboard with phrases from the play written on it which frames the entire space of the performance. The director creates a space that looks like a basement or a hazy madhouse. However, the play’s action does not take place in any particular physical space: it’s but a reflection of human consciousness, an imaginative space where the rules of “real” world do not apply.

Such plays as “Cleansed” do not work from a template or a universal rule, but demand the spectator to be actively creative. And while the “wall” between the audience and the play is not broken by physically touching the viewer or somehow involving them into the action of the play, the way the play is constructed forces the viewer to participate in the creation of meanings rather than the time or space.

Koršunovas uses a chorus which is absent in the original play. This is an element of the classical Greek theater put in the middle of the modern play by Kane. This coincidence or perhaps necessity is not the only thing connecting Kane with the Ancient Greek tragedy. Another aspect – violence. How can we explain or “justify” in this context the violence in “Cleansed”? It is neither the result of the (super)natural powers acting on behalf of the characters nor an evidence of the crushing power of fate, but rather an internal struggle of human consciousness with itself. This marks the distinction between the classical human and the modern human. The classical human is struggling with the forces of the world outside of himself – fate, the gods or God, while the modern human’s struggle is within – with oneself, one’s passions, wishes, desires, and aspirations.

The main theme of the play is love. Devastating, boiling, naive, dirty, dark, and finally – subsiding. A love that destroys the loving person i.e. forces them to erase themselves and become the other. In the play Grace gradually changes and becomes her brother Graham – first she puts on his clothes, then she begins to speak like him, repeats his thoughts and, finally, goes through sex change. One’s sexual identity, even though it changes, is often perceived as fairly fixed. Other identities – a student, teacher, father, brother, son – are more prone to change, they can languish and disappear. It is much more difficult to imagine not being a woman or a man that not being a teacher or a student. I do not think we should interpret Kane or Koršunovas as heralds of the change of sexual identity, instead they choose the strictest, barely changing identity and its modification and removal to show how complicated and destructive love may be with respect to the one who loves. Grace disappears, she becomes Graham. And while it’s a simple psychological insight – a person in love desires (often unconsciously) to become the other, to merge with the other, forgetting themselves, their world and their desires, but Kane, speaking in metaphors and images, creates such an image of love and the transformation that takes place inside the human experiencing it.

Perhaps Koršunovas really gets close to how Kane’s “Cleansed” should look like. And perhaps there is no such theater which would interpret the play differently, move away from it and live independently. Nevertheless, both the play and the performance seem relevant today. It is difficult to speak about the future. True, there could be more of that inner dirt. No, not on the metaphorical level, but real mud, blackness, pain and the resin, which Darius Meškauskas’ Tinker spattered on the actors in rather moderate amounts. For the cleansing to take place it was necessary to immerse in the mud, to be soaked and drowned.


Kristina Tamelyte, bernardinai.lt, 2nd February 2016