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by Lucy Komisar

Photo from 'Saved'
Amoral thugs stone an infant in Edward Bond's "Saved." Photo by Ken Howard.

by Edward Bond, directed by Robert Woodruff
Produced by Theatre for a New Audience
American Place Theatre, 111 West 46 Street
Opened February 25, 2001
Closes March 18, 2001
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar February 24, 2001
The Theatre for a New Audience revival of "Saved" is a curiously bleak but bloodless affair, that makes us feel distaste but never quite the horror and shock the playwright intended. Perhaps we're just too inured to the theater of cruelty. We have to put ourselves back to 1965, when a scene of young hoods tormenting and stoning a baby in a carriage caused British police to close the play down. It reopened in a theater constituted as a "private club."

Edward Bond's play was part of what was called "kitchen sink theater." It was daring and in your face and attacked the class system, arguing that poverty and hopelessness turned people into savages. Bond wrote it when he was 31.

It is a chilling portrait of people who live in thudding despairing, without any sense of a way out. But though the famous episode is meant to be symbolic of the youths' self-destruction, this is not a work of numbing violence. There's a moment when one of the tough pulls out a dirty diaper that we think there could be a real child in there. But for the rest, it's stones disappearing into a carriage into which we cannot see. Perhaps we expect more graphic mayhem these days. A more unsettling event is the opening sexual encounter where the Pam (skillfully portrayed as a young woman without a center by Amy Ryan), squeals in discomfort rather than pleasure.

Bond's South London characters live in a colorless, gray cinderblock world. Their clothes are gray, their furniture is nondescript, and the apartment doors are steel, as if they were closing off prison cells. The only apparent connection to the wider world is via a malfunctioning television with scrambled images.

The adults act and speak like children, in short sentences, without communicating. Pam's parents, Harry (Terence Rigby) and Mary (Randy Danson), don't talk to each other; he just puts his paycheck on the table every Friday. There's no talking, but there's lots of hollering in the family. The neighborhood youths are even less civilized; they are crude, violent, angry, nasty, bored, idle, isolated.

You don't know why Len (played sensitively by Pete Starrett), who was picked up by Pam for a sexual tryst, is decent. He falls for her and wants to take care of her and then the infant she has with Fred (Norbert Butz), the crude, animalistic gang leader who disdains her. Pam treats Len like dirt, and Mary flirts with him, perhaps looking for tenderness or seeking to rouse the jealousy of her remote husband. Len seems to represent a latent ineffective fragment of humanity.

Some of the script seems like "telly" sitcom. Speaking about his time in the army, Harry says, "Most, I enjoy the peace and quite. You don't get it quiet like that, nowadays." Len interjects, "Not like here." He's referring to the continual screaming matches. Advising Len about how to deal with women, Harry says, "Don't speak to them at all. Saves a lot of misunderstanding." But that comes off as ironically funny instead of tragic. A sensual scene where Len helps Mary sew her stocking - while she's wearing it -- is silly and absurd.

The cast members are all believable though sometimes they tread close to caricature. Director Robert Woodruff has chosen to drag out numerous scene changes by having stagehands carry them out under bright lights. That stops the action, cuts the tension, and rather than make the audience think, makes their minds wander. [Komisar]

Theater critic Lucy Komisar gives pre-show briefings and post-show discussions for theater parties to enrich playgoers' experiences. She'll also help find an appropriate show and make or advise on arrangements. Interested parties may telephone (212) 929-1610 for information.

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