Vikki Anderson says she faced serious challenges while helming Sarah Kane non-linear, poetic 4.48 Psychosis.
4.48 PSYCHOSIS by Sarah Kane, directed by Vikki Anderson, with Laura Condlln, Raven Dauda and Bruce Godfree. Produced by Necessary Angel at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Opens tonight (Thursday, February 14) and runs to February 23, Monday-Saturday 8 pm. Pwyc $38. 416-368-3110. See listings.
4.48 Psychosis, British playwright Sarah Kane's last and perhaps most intense script, premiered a year after her suicide in 1999.
The fragmented play has been called a suicide note, but director Vikki Anderson, guiding a production for Necessary Angel, calls it a life note.
Its title refers to the time in the morning when the play's central speaker, suffering from depression, has a brief period of clarity and sanity.
"The work is about striving to live and love, to make our lives work," says the director, who was impressed by the fine production of Kane's Blasted staged at Buddies several years ago. "When I realized that about the piece, I knew it could stand on its own, apart from her life though influenced by it.
"This staging of 4.48 Psychosis isn't a play about Sarah Kane but rather by Sarah Kane."
The director and her artistic team of actors and designers haven't chosen an easy project. On the page, the words look like free-form poetry; the text is devoid of stage directions, isn't assigned to characters and at one point becomes a series of scattered random numbers.
"But I like daunting projects where I work hard and learn a lot," admits Anderson, who also runs DVxT Theatre. "The job was to figure out how to communicate these words as a piece of theatre to which an audience can respond."
The staging of the play is open to various interpretations; it's been done as a solo show and by a cast of dozens.
"But early on," says Anderson, "I saw three key voices in it: a patient, her lover and her doctor, a therapist of some kind. I didn't parcel out the voices on my own, though, but worked in tandem with my three actors, Laura Condlln, Raven Dauda and Bruce Godfree.
"We read the play, talked about the voices we heard and only later assigned lines to the various ‘people' who seemed to be speaking. In addition to the main figures, we discovered a chorus of medical practitioners and another chorus from the Bible belt."
Once the voices were all identified, Anderson and her performers spent a lot of time around the rehearsal table working on the difficult text.
"There's not a word wasted, and we found ourselves doing what's usual in rehearsing Shakespeare: looking up everything we didn't understand in the Oxford English Dictionary. Kane was really smart, and she packed her play with references to Scripture, pop culture and lots of other things."
The narrative that took shape focuses on a woman in distress and how her situation and choices affect those closest to her.
"In our play she goes through talk therapy, medication, ECT and then eventually decides, after a break from her therapist, to commit suicide."
Anderson hasn't made her choices lightly, since she feels that Kane showed trust in theatre practitioners by turning such an unusual script over to them.
"As scary and intimidating as 4.48 Psychosis is, the myriad possibilities it offers us are exciting. Choosing the right process for working on it was more important than choosing the right directorial vision.
"There's never been a boredom factor in that process. I could direct this piece for the rest of the year and never stop mining new elements."