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The Clinic, 1006 6th Street NW
Thursday, July 22, at 8 p.m. Friday, July 23, at 10 p.m.
They Say: “Freud’s great-great grandson unveils some new science: a computerized shrink that reads dreams down to the nano-particles. Can robotics help him escape from under Sigmund’s shadow, untangle a love affair, and finally recover his own missing memories?”
Ian’s Take: The Capital Fringe Festival this year features not just one, but two characters named Freud. One is Sigmund, in the excellent Secret Obscenities. A few generations down the line, Sigmund’s fictional great-great-grandson David, a former professor of cognitive psychology at an unnamed D.C. university, is the center of Wayward Theatre’s Freud Meets Girl.
David (Eric Messner) begins the play where any good Freudian should, in therapy, though it quickly becomes apparent that this Dr. Freud isn’t in to talk about garden variety neuroses, and that Sophie (Laura C. Harris) this isn’t a standard therapist: he’s terrified and unstable, mumbling to himself in the corner of the room, and Sophie is a former student and lover.
The play shifts between this session and the incidents that led David to find himself in such a state, when he was still teaching and Sophie was a student. At the time, David was fresh off a bit of notoriety after CNN covered his invention-in-progress, a machine that analyzes dreams and the mind based on algorithms, equations, and biology, and that everyone, much to his chagrin, insists on calling a “robot”.
He balks at the designation, but it’s easy to see their confusion, since the machine (rendered here with an amusing collection of wires and household objects that should do any fan of 70s-era Doctor Who proud) has some vaguely human features and talks to David and potential subjects of analysis.
The play follows a standard sci-fi arc, with David becoming too involved in his creation (neglecting, in this case, his wife and his other responsibilities) and science then getting out of hand. The play asks the audience to take some big leaps to keep up. Beyond the premise itself, there is the notion of a “newly discovered element” called “mentillium” that exists as a gas, and when inhaled causes relaxed honesty in the subject. A compound whipped up in the lab might have caused a little less consternation among the physics-savvy in the crowd, or anyone who rolled their eyes at the idea of “unobtanium” in Avatar last winter. The machine is also anthropomorphized via an actor (Misty Demory) who gives it voice, but who also physically interacts on its behalf, requiring the viewer to imagine how what they’re seeing might actually be going down in reality. It’s a demanding work in that regard, handing the audience brushes and canvas and asking them to paint the picture for themselves.
If you can get past those hurdles, writer Hunter Styles has a nicely constructed rabbit hole for you to head down, as David becomes increasingly unable to discern reality from dreams and we’re convincingly thrust into his madness. Director Randy Baker choreographs the action to seamlessly shift from past to present, from office to classroom to lab, with inventive segues and minimal, suggestive sets. The past bleeds into the present and back again, just as dreams do with reality, and the play becomes a fascinating cautionary tale about going too deep into your own mind.
See It If: You tend to like thoughtful, low-budget sci-fi that is driven by character rather than effects.
Skip It If: Suspension of disbelief isn’t your strong suit.