4.48 PSYCHOSIS by Sarah Kane (Necessary Angel). Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to February 23, Monday-Saturday 8 pm. $25-$38, February 18 pwyc. 416-368-3110. See listing. Rating: NNN
4.48 Psychosis, Sarah Kane's last play - some might not call it a play - is a look at depression by a writer who committed suicide before its first production.
In the hands of director Vikki Anderson, the piece may be full of anguish but it's also an often exciting theatrical statement about the will to live.
On the page, 4.48 Psychosis appears to be a random series of words and numbers, lacking stage directions and specified characters. Anderson's take, devised with her actors and artistic team, presents three main figures: a distraught woman (Laura Condlln), her understandably concerned partner (Bruce Godfree) and a doctor (Raven Dauda) who tries to help the unnamed woman through her emotional trials.
The text is a kind of freeform poetry, here assigned to various speakers to give a flow and progression to the story as we follow the woman through the use of various therapeutic techniques (talk therapy, medication and electroshock).
Anderson frequently provides clarity to the material and also the occasional touch of gallows humour in the staging and delivery. Early talk about suicide is delivered in a happily giddy tone, and later the woman talks about "a dotted line on the throat...cut here." At one point, the ironic use of an Elvis Presley song sends up the lovers' situation.
The woman keeps a diary, visits her doctor, fights and makes up with her partner. Always fascinating to watch, Condlln is adept at keeping the anger in control, sometimes allowing it to blaze out of her eyes and then letting rip verbally or physically.
The other two aren't as well defined, I think in part because they exist as the woman sees them rather than in their own right. Dauda creates a strong impression as a physician who does her best with others but who is beset with her own personal childhood demons and unable to give the troubled woman the friendship she craves.
Godfree is less expressive, a figure trying to help, but he offers neither his lover nor the audience much to connect with.
At times, too - not always the proper times - Anderson opts for a clinical look at the woman and her world, distancing us emotionally just when we want to feel what she's going through.
The design adds admirable polish to the production's dark aspect. Yannick Larivée's set, a huge bleacher mirroring the audience's rows of seats, dwarfs the actors; at the top the rows become crooked, and at its bottom there's a huge pit of...nothingness. The levels are littered with pill and liquor bottles.
Bonnie Beecher's expressive lighting offers more than just atmosphere; it's like another character, toying with the woman and offering hope before pulling it away from her. John Gzowski's sound similarly plays with characters, defining them and their actions in subtle ways.