Entertainment
image courtesy Maple Salsa

Incest, torture, nudity? Be Cleansed

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The art world is full of cliches, tired schticks and endless imitation of anything inventive. That's why it's inspiring to see artists venturing off the beaten path and attempting to bring something creative and new to their audiences.

But this begs the questions: how far off the beaten path is too far? What qualifies as over the edge?

Flaunting the line between creativity and insanity is something both Calgary's Maple Salsa Theatre Company and playwright Sarah Kane (the late author of Maple Salsa's newest production, Cleansed) have always done.

Maple Salsa focuses on producing foreign plays where explicit material is often present. Full frontal nudity, genital disfigurement, incest, torture--anything and everything are fair game.

Graphic depictions of violence and sexuality are more common in foreign theatre, but that doesn't mean Calgary audiences are averse to depictions of these areas of life, as Javier Vilalta, Maple Salsa's Artistic Director and University of Calgary alumnus, explains.

"Other countries tend to be more accepting of these forms," says Vilalta. "When I decide to choose the plays for the season I'm always a little bit scared; not only that people won't be able to watch it, but that I won't be able to find actors who will be able to do it.

"But I've been finding that that's not the case, it's just that people don't have the chance to challenge themselves with these themes. We've built an audience of people who really, really like our shows, people interested in different theatre. I think we've found a place in the city."

The aggressive displays of sex and violence in Maple Salsa's plays are upsetting to many people, but that's the point.

"The fact that we use a lot of sex and violence in the show is not unmotivated," says Vilalta. "It comes from somewhere, it comes from a very strong place. The impact of violence or nudity in a play has a deep way of affecting people."

But Vilalta admits Maple Salsa productions aren't for everyone.

"There's always a couple of people who leave the theatre, because they just can't take it," he concedes.

Calgarians who have grown to love Maple Salsa's edgy entertainment won't be disappointed with Cleansed, which debuts Wed., Feb. 18 and runs through Sat., Feb. 28 at the New Dance Theatre.

Taking place in a torture institution known as "The University," Cleansed focuses on the power of bonds between people in alternative relationships (homosexual, incestuous, etc.) as they are tortured to test the strength of their love.

"Have you ever heard the sentence, 'I would die for you?'" Vilalta asks. "Well, here it becomes literal."

The emotional impact of Cleansed is so intense, in fact, that Vilalta himself can't help being affected.

"After [Cleansed], I'm going to take two steps down," he explains. "I think I've reached a point where I've already had enough of some things."

Cleansed has been performed by theatre companies throughout the world in recent years, as the reputation of playwright Sarah Kane has grown. Opinions on her work differ greatly, some call her a genius, others a pervert.

"I think she's still a little bit ahead of our time," Vilalta says.

I guess the jury's still out, but anyone interested in judging the work of Sarah Kane for themselves should seize this opportunity, because it might be a while before her work is performed in Calgary again. And no matter how you judge Cleansed, I doubt you'll say it's boring.

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