HYSTERIA: the naked women in Freud’s closet

Hysteria, or Fragments of an Analysis of a Obsessional Neurosis by Terry Johnson, The NoraTheatre Company, Central Square Theater, 1/6/11-1/30/11.  Nudity and mature themes.  http://www.centralsquaretheater.org/season/10-11/hysteria.html

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Freudian analysis?  A dream of Dali?  Too much spicy food?  These are questions the audience might ask while watching Hysteria.  Using the real meeting between Freud and Dali as a starting point, Johnson’s play moves from farce to surrealism to nothingness.  The Nora Theatre Company makes this strange journey palatable and pleasurable and  masks the flaws of the script.

The exaggerated perspective of the set, Freud’s study, immediately tells the audience that something peculiar is going to happen.  As the play unfolds, Janie E. Howland’s surrealistic set design matches the frenetic energy that is sent forth from the actors.  No one questions the absurdity of the situations that take place because the cast commit fully to the roles that they play.  Richard Sneed, as Freud, tries to hold the world together as it keeps trying to spiral out-of-control.  His warm-fatherly nature combined with Freud’s philosophies moves the audience from sympathy for a dying man to anger at an intractable man that will not even admit the possibility that he might have erred.

As an “id” to Sneed’s “egoist” performance, John Kuntz plays the narcissistic Spaniard, Salvador Dali.  Kuntz’s action fuels the farcical antics onstage.  Terry Johnson’s script uses classical British farce techniques (such as opening and closing doors, situational misunderstandings, slapstick) to move from moment to moment–although in a much more lineal way than Tom Stoppard.  Along with the audience, Dr. Yahuda (played by Robert Bonetto), barely questions the absurd circumstances occurring throughout the first act.  The problem arises when Johnson’s script fails to balance out the comedy with the dramatic elements.

Jessica, the mysterious young woman played by Stacy Fischer, compels Freud to meet with her and discuss a former patient.  Although Jessica gets caught up in the farce on occasion, she produces a hyper-realistic scenario that mirrors Dali’s absurdity but then overpowers it and begins to drag the play down.  Fischer infuses her role with the honesty that the character demands.  However, Johnson’s pride goes before the play.  Johnson, with a self-indulgent knowledge of the case study, creates a dramatic scene at the end of act one that brings the action to a halt; the scene does produce an important revelation, but it takes too long to get there and leaves some trepidation of how the play will proceed from that point.  Fortunately, he moves on and so does the play.

The nudity does make sense within the context of the play and in particular where it occurs.  I do question its necessity when the same idea could have been conveyed without nudity; nevertheless, I also believe that anyone who goes to see a play about Freud will expect (or should expect) talk and visual imagery of sex.

The play is an entertaining, intellectual exercise and will stimulate those who have an interest in psychology and philosophy.  The performances by the cast are strong, and the visual elements amplify the insanity that flies across the stage.  Consequently, the audience can have a stimulating and cohesive night at Hysteria as long as they don’t linger in the playwright’s own melancholy. 1/11/11.  TNETG.

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