Buried somewhere beneath the middlebrow jokes, straight-faced psychobabble and unfunny farce of Terry Johnson's Hysteria there's a play. Not a great play maybe, but surely something better than the pretentious pap at the Canadian Stage's Bluma Appel.
It's the last day of Sigmund Freud's (Eric Peterson) life, and the father of psychoanalysis gets a visit from three people: a doctor (Peter Donaldson) who wants him to halt publication of a book that suggests Moses wasn't Jewish; the surrealist painter Salvador Dali (David Storch), who sees in Freud a patron saint; and Jessica (Kristen Thomson), who has her own psychoanalytic axe to grind.
No Tom Stoppard, Johnson never finds a clever enough reason for Freud and Dali to meet. Throughout the achingly long first act, we get multiple scenes of door-slamming farce instead of a plot. He's not helped by director Morris Panych, who in the second act resorts to bathos, evoking images of the Holocaust to get an emotional payoff that's unearned and offensive.
There's depth in the story between Freud and Jessica, however, through which the playwright suggests that personal whims can devastate others. It's no accident that when together, actors Peterson and Thomson stand out; unfortunately, so do their competing bad accents.
On the plus side, Ken MacDonald's set is stunning, a towering series of drawers, evoking the unconscious, that's cleverly inverted after the interval. But at two and a half hours, there should be more to look at, and discuss, than the set. GS
HYSTERIA, by Terry Johnson, directed by Morris Panych, with Eric Peterson, David Storch, Kristen Thomson and Peter Donaldson. Presented by Canadian Stage at the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Runs to November 4, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm, Saturday 2 pm. $30-$60, limited Monday pwyc and half-price same-day rush. 368-3110. Rating: NN