October 26, 2014
Not long after completing 4:48 Psychosis, Sarah Kane hanged herself by her shoelaces. Her final work is often seen as her suicide note – twenty-four sections of tortured text, unassigned to characters. Any director bold enough to take the work on takes on with it the ethical considerations of the play’s reality, as well as the aesthetic puzzle of bringing it to life. Any production is foremost an act of interpretation, placing its director closer to its audience than most theatre allows. TR Warszawa sets us at a distance that is constantly in flux.
Grzegorz Jarzyna constructs hyper-reality, dividing the text amongst a small, unnamed cast: a doctor, a surgeon, a brother, and a lover, all surrounding Magdalena Cielecka as the afflicted. We see disconnection, tenderness, and solitary struggle. Characterization that feels like forced plot could exist alternatively as internal monologue. As Cielecka’s relations fail to understand her battle with depression, we sense that she is just as impaired in understanding herself.
St. Ann’s Warehouse provides an unusually deep space, keeping us remote from much of the action, heightening a sense of helplessness. The actors’ movements are affected with a cold precision, crystallizing our visual perception. Across the back of the set is a series of mirrors in which we can see ourselves watching. The action becomes a two-way reflection, reminding us of our vulnerability.
We additionally experience knowing someone suffering from depression’s debilitating effects in a way Polish-speakers do not. Supertitles give us the script with a typeset calmness that is hard to believe. We know Sarah Kane wrote the words, but Cielecka’s manic delivery begs the question if something is lost in translation. The last lines of each section remain on screens in transitional blackouts, speaking to us separately from humans on stage. Practicality becomes poetry as reminders of our inability to help refuse to leave our sight.
It’s difficult shifting from experiencing depression to witnessing it. We see Cielecka hyperbolically kill herself, as numbers that double as prescriptions count down her last moments, yet she never relents her demands that we see, hear, touch and love her. Her command, “watch [her] vanish,” requires us to sense decreased sensation, similar to the depressive’s experience. This paradoxical exchange equates the inability to connect with a depressive with the inability to connect that symptomizes depression itself. Her mantra is a tragic pun, existing as a genuine cry for help and an attention-seeking trope at once.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY--Jonathan Matthews