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4.48 Psychosis The Bodega at the Trading Post
Remaining Performances: Friday, July 11 at 4:15p.m. Sunday, July 12 at 7:30p.m. Wednesday, July 15 at 8:00p.m.
They say: Awakened by the shock of her own suicide, a woman is driven to reassemble the fragments of a life plagued by unsuccessful therapies and endless medications. Playwright Sarah Kane’s final play before committing suicide at the age of twenty-eight.
Brett’s take: Sometimes the most depressing and harrowing stories can give cause for hope. In the case of 4.48 Psychosis, there are two less-than-joyous tales: the one told inside the play, and the meta-story of Sarah Kane’s decline and suicide. More than perhaps any other play I have ever seen, it is crucial to come into this one with contextwhich is why this company has, wisely, placed it in their blurb.
From some nameless or unknown author, we might dismiss this play as pretentious. But Kane’s backstory does more than give the show credibility; it makes it definitive. Sitting in the sweltering, cramped new Fringe space called the Bodega (rarely has seeing theater in such a dilapidated chamber been more appropriate), we think, this is the final word on the subject of terminal depression.
If calling it “the final word” seems a little, well, jokey, than be assured that it’s in keeping with Kane’s vision. Several fine actors stand on chairs, representatives of different aspects of “the collective consciousness of a suicidal mind” (as the program puts it), and wrestle with themselves. This one is vulnerable and needy; that one responds harshly. This other one is pissed off; that one soothes it. And this one (yes) makes a joke, and that one twists the punchline. You might be surprised, but more than once the actors had to pause for the audience’s surprised laughter. Gallows humor indeed.
The play was written by Kane almost as a free verse poem, sans stage direction; it is up to any production to decide who says what, moves where, and even how many actors there are; ten in this production, as few as one in others. Under John Moletress’s masterfully intuitive direction, each of the actors stakes a claim to his or her own personality, and each personality is multi-dimensional; no “I play Anger, you play Despair” crap. Having multiple, believable voices interacting with each other turns out to be the best method to represent our thought processswirling, colliding, backpedaling, teasing, agreeing, and disagreeing. Reading someone’s diary could not be more personal; you can only read one word at a time, and that is not how we think.
I want to dispel any notion that this play is just a formless outpouring of emotions. The scene is anchored by Sara Barker, the nominal lead, registering and funneling the other aspects, and doing an impressive job of looking like a beautiful, happy 30-year-old one moment, and a defeated, sickly 80-year-old the next. The story has two forces which both pull it forward and save it from repetition. First is the effort of a doctor (or the suicidal mind’s memory of a doctor) to get through to the mind; and the second is the suicidal mind’s love. It is up to you to figure out who the “love” is, but believe that it is a love of a kind no less real than the kind you or I experience.
And there we have the hope that I mentioned. The great tragedy of the play is to learn that the suicidal person’s deathKane’s death, or the character’sis the death of a vast and relatable intelligence, and an even vaster heart. It is the sole flaw of that intelligence that it tried to fight against a nihilism that cannot be defeated with reason; and it is, we may perhaps realize at the play’s quietly shattering climax, our own flaw that we could not provide that heart with the love to sustain it. The hope? We see, as the character does at the titular 4:48 o’clock, not psychosis, but rather that in a different situation, the love could prevail.
See it if: Whether or not you have experience with depressionyou want to be reminded that even the most downtrodden are still human beings capable of a joke.
Skip it if: You want your entertainments to consist only of entertainmentyou want a good time after a hard day of work, not some sort of “emotional journey!”