4.48 Psychosis opened 4.21.17 at Carnegie Stage. The black box theater is the perfect space to host an experience which invites the audience inside the mind of someone mentally ill. The play is a dramatized confession oozing sadness, confusion, anger, lust, fear and desperation, presented as a stream of consciousness narrative. Director Robyne Parrish quickly absorbs the audience into a position of bystander by amalgamating the private and personal pain of emotional illness with the public’s reproach to victims through an intricate portrayal of agony. With a cast of 3, each playing one dynamic part of a scarred psyche, none of whom are named, lead many people to assume 4.48 Psychosis is a first hand account of playwright Sarah Kane’s plummet toward suicide. This show is not for someone who could easily be triggered by a theatrical execution of mental illness, or representation and discussion of symptoms such as self- harm and suicide. Written by British playwright Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis is often interpreted as an actual account of her intimate relationship with her own mental illness.
off the WALL Productions have cast Erika Cuenca as the lead/ego, and supporting actors, Tammy Tsai as the superego and Siovhan Christensen as the id. Cuenca recites the raw and unapologetic dialogue with sincere professionalism. At times I found her stage presence conflicting with her character; she wasn’t accurately disheveled, and consistently delivered her lines with confidence. None of these traits spoiled the role but produced moments when I wondered how comfortable she is imitating someone with a severe emotional disease. Regardless, the majority of her performance steadily portrays a horrified and frightened victim of derangement.
Tsai, remains stoic through her sobering representation as superego and doctor. Charged with guiding the ego toward healing, teetering between the superego and a sound and grounded medical professional Tsai delivers the disarrayed and disturbed mind most accurately. As doctor, she asks her patient, “Have you made any plans?” The ego responds, “Take an overdose, slash my wrists then hang myself.” Tsai matter factly states, “That won’t work”, seamlessly blending her role as superego and psychiatrist both cold and isolating.
Each character is dressed simply in white and this costume design suits Christensen, the id, most appropriately. She is simply just there; aloof, mercilessly depicting the need for desire, love, and lust. Like the audience, the id is merely along for the ride through an unhinged mind. She does not flinch when ego screams, “Fuck you for rejecting me by never being there. Fuck you for making me feel like shit about myself”. Christensen’s id unintentionally taunts ego with a natural femininity and moves like a dancer.
4.48 Psychosis is an exhibition of art. The exchange of dialogue between the psyche is intentionally desperate and charged with self-doubt and self-loathing. It is the cold and calculated approach to treatment, specifically pharmacology that instigates anxiety in me, as a witness and audience member. After admittance into a hospital, and yielding to medication, Cuenca, Tsai and Christensen adapt their roles to include uncontrollable physical restlessness, pacing, twitching, shaking, anxiety, panic, and paranoia. This is hard to watch. I was compelled to glance away; to momentarily divert my senses, stealing a minute to process what I was seeing and hearing. It may be cliche to say this production of 4.48 Psychosis is ‘edgy’, but it is. It is moving and troubling and thought provoking. In the typical manner of off the WALL Productions, 4.48 Psychosis challenges my way of thinking and exposes me to ideas I would not necessarily choose to explore. This is a theatrical embodiment of madness and an attempt to drive awareness. The play is sad and disturbing. It will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge your perceptions and force you to reevaluate your ideas of mental illness and treatment. I purposely left out a synopsis of the play because it is Kane’s poetically scripted chain of experiences, voiced through the talented and driven cast, that will entice theater goes to Carnegie Stage to be a witness to Kane’s final outreach through art.
4.48 Psychosis runs at Carnegie Stage through April 30th. For tickets and more information, click here.
Special thanks to off the WALL Productions for complimentary press tickets.
Photos courtesy of off the WALL’s website here.