Thoughts & Musings


HYSTERIA moves from historical drama farce to tragedy to high comedy, fluidly and without warning.

by Larry O'Brien,
  • 8th February 20168/02/16
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Where to begin? There is a lot going on in this play. In 1938 in London Sigmund Freud (Ed Shea), while living in exile from Nazi oppression, is visited by Salvator Dali (Luis Astudillo), who considered Freud’s work the underpinning for surrealism. Had this meeting not taken place, Terry Johnson would have had to invent it! But wait, there’s more: a young woman with a secret named Jessica (Lara Hakeem) shows up, first begging for and then insisting on an audience with Freud, Meanwhile, Freud is being attended to by his doctor/confidante, Yahuda (played by Michael McAdam). Like life itself, HYSTERIA moves from historical drama farce to tragedy to high comedy, fluidly and without warning (Think The Front Page meets Spellbound). It is both a very grounded play and a play wandering in a fog of drug-induced illusion. The central issues are the conflicts Freud’s work has created for Jessica and really for himself as well. Johnson’s play both baffles and clarifies-again a lot like life.

This production of HYSTERIA is blessed with a strong cast. As Sigmund Freud, Ed Shea makes it look easy. Shea has been performing for over forty years and he’s learned a thing or two. When HYSTERA is being played for laughs, he is capable as both straight man and funnyman; when it’s being played for keeps, his performance is subtle and nuanced. Lara Hakeem is masterful as Jessica; when she’s called on to be funny, she is very, very funny; when called on to be moving, she moves the audience. She’s always good, this woman. Luis Astudillo makes Dali seem as crazy as Dali always seemed in real life. He has some very funny moments, especially dealing with his own “hysteria” over a paper cut. Finally, Michael McAdam as Yahuda is strong in the farce and strong as the compassionate doctor. HYSTERIA moves in a lot of different directions, and the cast hung with it all the way.

2nd Story’s backstage artists did a fine job in pulling everything together. HYSTERIA is played in the round here to maximize the opportunities for farcical comings and goings. Candis Dixon’s set creates a comfortable 20th Century apartment for Freud to inhabit. The star of the set is unquestionably a huge oriental rug supplied by Rustigian Rug. Ron Cesario’s costumes made Freud look like Freud and Dali look like Dali (beautiful necktie!). Hakeem looks well dressed whether in a simple house dress, her underwear, a towel or Dali’s suit coat. One thing that did not work for me was Alex Watrous’s video, which was played on the walls toward the conclusion. I had a tough time seeing it.

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