4.48 Psychosis – The Pain Game
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
There’s a lot about Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis that could make someone want to turn away from it. It’s the kind of thing that the phrase “trigger warning” was invented for. There’s one theme in it, though, that is more spiritually terrifying to me than all of the rest put together and that is this: sometimes, it doesn’t work. Sometimes all of the doctors, medications, hotlines, therapy, in-patient stays, out-patient stays, group settings, cutting, outreach, interventions, weed, stabilizers, church groups, booze – sometimes none of it works. It just doesn’t. Kane took her life in a British hospital in 1999 and she certainly had access to all of these things. We want to believe that something could have been done to prevent her death and, by extension, the death of so many who have lost their struggles with mental illness, but the truth is, maybe there wasn’t. Maybe it’s just like, oh, I don’t know, cancer or some shit: when the sick part of you outgrows the healthy part of you, then you die. I mean, sure, that’s bleak, man, but this is bleak fucking stuff. And I’m not suggesting that the mentally ill (myself among that group!) take their own lives because, thankfully, sometimes all of that shit does work, or at least, enough of it does to cure the sickness. But for all the blissful narratives of the magic of healing there is another side, too, and that is the special combination of factors that can make it impossible, for some people, to close the wounds. For a few, there is just one way out of the dark. Considering, even for a moment, that suicide might have validity (so much of our brains are given to self-preservation, after all) is stomach-turningly awful. And Nick Horan, Katie Keddell and Che Lyons, the wonderful cast of 4.48 Psychosis, don’t make it any easier and that’s right. It shouldn’t be easy. It should be fucking hard. It should be hard to watch. They scream and squirm like butterflies pinned to a board, they talk, they cry, they chain themselves to chairs and drag them across the stage with ropes. Specters of others – an ill-formed fantasy lover, friends, therapists – flit around the stage as darts of their eyes. The performances have an ingrained, visceral trueness to them that made me exhale without realizing I was holding my breath for minutes at a time. Director Ryan Clark deftly handles Kane’s script (which is really more of an epic poem disguised as diary entries, disjointed phrases that rain down into your ears, almost, but not quite, making perfect sense without being at all bound to sanity or rational sense), and creates vignettes, motion stories that help the audience find footholds in what could easily be an alienating piece. All of the actors stubbornly root themselves in this poisoned soil, staring directly out at the audience, daring you to meet their eyes. They are all exceptional, but, my God, Nick Horan. Horan’s presence is hypnotic, his movement is so human, so painful, so clear. His eyes are tortured at some moments, totally and eerily blank in others. What an exquisite performance. Lighting (design by Alec Lawson) was a little too saturated, a little too “theatrical” – a touch haunted house-ish – and there were moments that the projections (design by Travis Levasseur) were too cartoony (such as the giant pills and bottles waterfalling down the stage) but I suspect that’s a personal quibble rather than a true flaw. I only had one real question coming out of this: why does Iron Crow, who bill themselves as “Baltimore’s only queer theatre company” choose this piece, with no identifiable queer themes, as their opening work of such an important, defining season (a new executive director to prove himself, shake ups of the executive staff, new branding)? It’s not that I didn’t love the work or think it’s a valid choice for a company so focused on intense, dark, confrontational, conversational theater but there it is, and it is a little perplexing.
BOTTOM LINE: 4.48 Psychosis picks away at a scab on my soul revealing a big, dark, red, raw, aching heart inside of me. Iron Crow is to be commended for never, ever turning away from the sound of that heart beating. The actor’s surety was epic and horrible, mapping the landscape of madness with brutal clarity. I want you to look at this, even if it’s hard for you. I want you to look.
Running at Baltimore Theatre Project until October 18th.
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