At one point during Cleansed, I felt like throwing up, and I almost had to look away. If this feeling swelled up in my throat while watching, say, a Neil Simon comedy, then the direction that inspired it would be considered rather poor. But in a play by Sarah Kane, the late British chronicler of life's most sordid and deviant alleyways, nausea is a compliment. For the record, the sickening scene in question was the one in which Jim Gibbons tosses down an entire box of chocolates, piece by piece, for Robert Alter to eat like a tortured, subservient pet, only to upchuck them onto the dirty floor in a mass of half-digested chocolate. It's one of the tamer scenes in a play full of all sorts of boundary-pushing degradation. But by wallowing in the X-rated material, it's easy to overlook the beautiful subtleties of Stodard's direction. The resources at Empire Stage, her company's host venue, are more limited than any other theater space, prompting Stodard to generate a lot from very little: Rubber dismembered body parts, strips of red ribbons to indicate blood, creepy sound design, a minimal set that exudes existential despair, pitch-perfect song transitions from Metallica and Joy Division. She helmed a difficult play, making it impossible to forget.

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