PHAEDRA’S LOVE, Defiant Theatre, at American Theater Company. If you think simulated blow jobs, make-believe disembowelment, and people saying “cunt” are provocative, you’re Sarah Kane’s kind of audience member. In her 1996 Phaedra’s Love she transforms the mythological queen into a modern-day, libidinally rapacious royal and recasts her stepson Hippolytus–traditionally a chaste devotee of Artemis–as a channel-surfing, amoral slug. But despite concerted efforts at salaciousness, including copious quantities of pretend sexual violence, Kane can’t seem to create any meaningful dynamic between her two main characters. Phaedra wants to jump Hippolytus’ bones for no good reason; Hippolytus is contemptuous of everyone and everything. C’est tout. Kane seems to want to illustrate the spiritual dissolution of the British monarchy, but her characterizations are so broad that what emerges is a one-dimensional cartoon.

Defiant Theatre’s generally humorless approach makes for a ponderous evening. The cast spend their hour together digging for deep subtext, but since Kane forgot to add substance after she’d provided the shocks, the actors necessarily come up short. Tanera Marshall as Phaedra can’t find much to do aside from writhing in sexual angst, and Christopher Johnson’s Hippolytus is pure superficial crankiness. There’s little here to show us any truth about our human nature. And without that truth, there’s not much point in retelling an ancient myth.

–Justin Hayford