"Hysteria" is Hysterical at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater
By: Susan Blood, August 8, 2012
MICHAEL A. KARCHMER - From left, Justin Campbell as Salvador Dali, Stacy Fischer as Jessica, Michael Edwards as Freud and Pete Clapsis as Yehuda.
You have to admit, a play that inspires the stage manager to tweet, “We have to find a credible way to trip over the phallus” during rehearsal breeds a certain amount of curiosity.
Hysteria: Or Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional Neurosis, which opened at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater on Saturday, deserves every bit of curiosity it has so far managed to stir up.
It's one of those plays that gives small doses of information at a time, so you don't quite know what's happening—and you can't wait to find out. The synopsis is left intentionally murky, all the better for sucking the audience into the story.
Get on the couch...
Hysteria: Or Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional NeurosisWellfleet Harbor Actors Theater
2357 Route 6, Wellfleet
Performances through August 25 at 8 PM. No show on Tuesdays.
Tickets: $15 to 35; students $10
Reservations can be made by calling 508-349-9428 or visiting what.org
In 1938, Salvador Dali visited Sigmund Freud in London. Hysteria, in its simplest description, is a re-imagining of that visit. It’s complicated by the simultaneous appearance of Jessica, a young woman who climbs the garden wall and demands to see Freud.
Nearing the end of his battle with cancer, Freud wishes to refer her to another doctor, but she wants nothing to do with his referrals. It's Freud she wants.
Hysteria at its best
Playwright Terry Johnson is a brilliant storyteller, and this production does his script justice. Stacy Fischer captures the audience as soon as she appears, wrapping them firmly around her finger just as surely as if she had a razor to her wrist (which, incidentally, she does).
One moment Jessica is hysterical, the next she is the most rational person in the room. Granted, when she's alone in the room with Dali, this isn't saying much.
Michael Edwards as Freud had me arguing over breakfast about what the father of modern psychology was like, until I caught myself and realized I don't actually know the real Sigmund Freud.
Pete Clapsis appears as Freud's doctor and friend, Yahuda.
Justin Campbell would not have been my choice for Salvador Dali, and that's why I'm not a casting director. I love Dali. I love Justin Campbell. Campbell did Dali justice in spades. He was hilarious and completely, irretrievably, over the top.
Ignorance is bliss
Hysteria balances laugh-out-loud comedy with deadly serious revelations. You don't know what's happening until it all becomes shockingly clear – at which point you may wish you didn't know what's happening.
It's also one of those plays that makes you want to know more after you've left. I have several tabs open in my browser, including the Kristalnacht Wikipedia page, an essay titled The Myth of Freud’s Ostracism by the Medical Community and a couple free digital editions of Freud's writing.
As the two men discuss surrealism, Freud asks Dali, “Could you spend your life pursuing something you no longer believe in?” In the question lies the crux of the story. Can we continue to pursue something we no longer believe in, and at what cost?
The set and the lighting by Scott Cooper and John R. Malinowski worked the kind of stage magic requisite for a play with Dali in it. Sarah Beals filled Freud's study with books and sculptures that made me want to get a closer look at the titles and learn more about Freud's actual study. There was also the question of, “How many phallus-shaped props can you find in this picture?”
I lost count.
Hysteria: Or Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional Neurosis is a co-production with American Stage Theatre Company, directed by Todd Olson. If you miss it at WHAT, you'll have to go to Saint Petersburg, Florida.
But don't miss it here. If anything, go to Saint Petersburg to see it again.