Meeting of Legendary Minds Produces Engaging ‘Hysteria’
Fine performances always are a reason to check out a 2nd Story production, but this time there also is the play’s interesting amalgam of moods and topics to mull over. “Hysteria” is a formula for engaging theater.By Kathie Raleigh, Woonsocket Call
“Hysteria,” British playwright Terry Johnson’s imaginative rendition of a meeting between Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali, is concocted from an unusual formula.
It’s one part serious drama, one part unnerving tragedy, a dash of intellectualism and, incongruously, one part hilarious farce.
At 2nd Story Theatre, the whole thing boils over into a scintillating production that makes for a thought-provoking, laugh-inducing evening (or afternoon) of theater, one of the meatiest and most entertaining shows this season.
Set in the late 1930s, the play is based on an actual event: a meeting between Freud, who by then was in the painful terminal stage of cancer, and the 30-something Dali, the Surrealist artist.
Surrealists were enamored of Freud’s theories about the importance of dreams, and Johnson’s play is a surrealist work in itself: elegantly written, purposefully constructed — but a swirling mix of events that make you ask if they are real or a dream.
At times, Freud and Dali are joined by the former’s physician, Yahuda, who is administering hallucination-inducing doses of morphine, and Jessica, a young woman who appears during a soaking rainstorm and refuses to leave, obsessed with discussing one of Freud’s case studies.
All four are involved in the dramatic aspects of the play, including serious conversations about life and death, love and loss, the Nazi, the Surrealists, and Freud’s changing theories about repressed memories and sexual abuse.
But they also are involved in the crazy, funny farce, complete with slamming doors, misunderstandings and laugh-out-loud shenanigans.
Somehow it all works, without the seriousness dampening the humor, nor the comedy undermining the tragedy. Like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, Ed Shea works with separate pieces, but fits them together to create a vivid picture.
Shea also plays Freud, a portrayal that is visually compelling and insightful, from his drug-induced confusion about a light switch to his sharp defense of his methods. Lara Hakeem is tantalizingly mysterious and mercurial as Jessica, a woman obsessed, or possibly possessed, and Michael McAdam is commanding as the physician who may be critical of Freud’s ideas but compassionate about his suffering.
Luis Astudillo, however, leads the farce with a knockout performance as Dali, and his energy transfers to the other characters whenever things get silly. With his wonderful Spanish accent and expressive face, Astudillo leaves a lasting portrait of the artist.
Fine performances always are a reason to check out a 2nd Story production, but this time there also is the play’s interesting amalgam of moods and topics to mull over. “Hysteria” is a formula for engaging theater.