Stage preview: Off the Wall confronts challenge of play about depression and suicide
April 20, 2017 12:00 AM
Off The Wall Productions at Carnegie Stage presents "4.48 Psychosis" by Sarah Kane; directed by Robyn Parrish; choreographed by Moriah Ella Mason; starring, from left, Siovhan Christensen, Erika Cuenca and Tammy Tsai.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The story behind the play opening at Off the Wall Productions Friday and attempts to stage it are as compelling as the play itself.
“4.48 Psychosis” — the title refers to the clinically depressed mind at 4:48 a.m. — was completed a few months before British writer Sarah Kane committed suicide in 1999. She was 28.
Where: Off the Wall Productions at Carnegie Stage, Main Street, Carnegie.
When: Friday through May 6. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $25-$40; www.insideoffthewall.com.
It was first produced in London as a play and then as an opera, both developed from text that is more prose poem than script, has 26 sections but no stage directions and no indication of the number of actors.
“The first time I read it, I thought, ‘This is unstageable,’ but something drew me back,” said Off the Wall artistic director Virginia Gruenert. “And the more I read it, I knew it could be done, and it could be done brilliantly with the right director.”
Robyne Parrish, who previously directed “Musical of Musicals the Musical” at Off the Wall and will helm the musical “Violet” for Front Porch Theatricals next month, directs, working with Moriah Ella Mason as a movement consultant.
“It just makes so much sense to me — it’s movement theater, if you will. We started with the physical ... to free the actors to be able to find the power behind the words,” said Ms. Gruenert.
The text on its own can be “horrific,” she admitted, but she began to see Ms. Kane’s penchant for gallows humor.
One of Ms. Gruenert’s favorite lines is, “The doctor told me I have eight minutes to live, after I had been in the waiting room for a half-hour.’
During her short life, playwright Kane had three original plays produced, including the controversial “Blasted,” which was riddled with scenes of explicit sexual acts, rape, eye gouging and cannibalism.
In Kane’s obituary in The Guardian, Lyn Gardner wrote of “Blasted,” “Critics were quick to condemn it as ‘a feast of filth’ although some were brave enough to subsequently revise their opinion, noting that … Kane’s play was written in the bleached language of truth and poetry.”
The language of “4.48 Psychosis” takes many twists and turns, but it’s hard not to see the whole as a suicide note, which is written into the script:
when depression visits
I shall hang myself
to the sound of my lover’s breathing
I do not want to die
I have become so depressed by the fact of my mortality that I have
decided to commit suicide
The New York Times’ obituary reported that Kane was found hanged in her hospital room, where she was being treated for depression.
“I truly believe that when Sarah Kane wrote this, she had made the decision to commit suicide,” Ms. Gruenert said. “It was her explanation to her parents, her ex-lovers, her current lover. … They spent years trying to get her to understand the medical point of view, and now she was saying, ‘No. This is what I want. Understand me.’”
“4.48 Psychosis” was first performed in London in 2000, with a cast of three. “It is a powerful, almost unbearable evening … of piercing poetry, humor and pain,” The Guardian of London declared.
The actors for Off the Wall — Siovhan Christensen, Erika Cuenca and Tammy Tsai — began their journey to the stage by exploring movement before text, which makes this production unlike anything Off the Wall has previously attempted, but “I think it’s a marvelously creative way to approach this play,” Ms. Gruenert said.
In July, the company celebrates 10 years of producing challenging works, beginning in Washington County and, in recent years, on Main Street in Carnegie. “4.48 Psychosis” fits with Off the Wall’s mission statement, which includes “nurturing, challenging, inspiring and empowering women theater artists from our area and beyond.”
The play, which runs 65 minutes without intermission, also presents a challenge unlike any the company has faced.
When it debuted, critics labeled it “in-your-face theater,” and it’s definitely that, said Mrs. Gruenert.
And she added one more thing: “It’s not for the faint of heart.”
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.
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