Keen (Love Poems for Cannibals, 2013) portrays two days in the life of a paranoid king in this debut play.
King Able is the nominal ruler of his kingdom, but it’s vague how much power he actually possesses. It’s unclear, even, whether he has any subjects or courtiers; in Keen’s minimalist three-scene play, Able is the sole speaker, and the only other characters are masked men who spend much of the drama leering out from the background, seen by the audience but not by Able himself. Able’s powerlessness is on display as his royal requests go unanswered: “Where is the royal catalogue? (Pause. Flamboyance continues.) Where is the royal thermometer? (Pause.) Bring in the royal book of phrases. (Long pause.) Where is the court prognosticator? (Pause.)” The play highlights his insecurity during his daily radio address to the kingdom; he’s able to keep his composure during his prepared remarks, but when he’s unable to shut down the microphone afterward, his demeanor cracks into a paranoid rant that includes his suspicions that the queen is keeping him prisoner. He eventually decides to make an escape, but the trap he’s in—whether built by the queen or simply by the playwright—won’t release its prey so easily. Although the king’s frantic dialogue lies at the heart of the play, Keen’s precise set and stage directions are arguably more central to its themes, execution, and emotional resonance. The long silences, use of audio recordings, and simultaneous actions on different parts of the stage reveal the work as not a series of monologues but rather an intricately orchestrated puzzle. Readers are left to simply imagine the effect of all of this in a live venue, which strips the printed text of some of its power. Upon reaching the end of this short drama, they will want nothing more than to see a staged production of it, particularly its final moments. Still, for such a brief work, Keen manages to pack in an impressive amount of tension and implication, leaving readers to question who’s really pulling the strings.
A clever, creepy drama about paranoia and control.