Now on the Hunger Artists Theatre Co.'s stage—seven years to the month after 28-year-old English playwright Sarah Kane hanged herself—is Kane's fifth and final play, 4.48 Psychosis.This ultimate stream-of-consciousness list of reasons to end it all was her suicide note to a world too small to handle her genius and was a key part of the 1990s British "In-Yer-Face" or "New Brutalist" theater movement. Although 4.48 Psychosis relies on the limitations of language to effectively convey a depressed woman's pain, the Hunger Artists' current production—directed by Jeremy Gable—infuses Kane's exhausted attempts to put words to her condition with false sentiment, achieving a different kind of brutal effect.
Flipping theater groups an immortal bird, Kane's free-verse "script," as first performed in 2000 at London's Royal Court Theatre, does not provide defined characters, stage directions or set suggestions. Respecting the empty palette, Gable sets his production on a linoleum floor in the center of a shadowy stage covered with a heavy dusting of dirt and containing only a table, two chairs and actress Jessica Topliff.
Gable's capable guidance is evident throughout the production, but its success requires that the audience be confronted with a pain far too real and raw for most of its members to tolerate. And Topliff's one-woman performance—which is crucial—sterilizes the oozing, infected prose with her melodic vocal tone and melodramatic disposition. To be fair, Topliff does give us two staggeringly devastating moments. The first comes in a scene that has Topliff on the floor alternating between a steady, chanting line delivery and a languidly hypnotic one, while tearing at her hair. The other, on the night I saw Psychosis, came at curtain call, when Topliff the performer made a final, wordless connection to her audience. When she raised her head, it was clear that internalizing Kane's anguish had affected her in a substantial and torturous way. It's just a shame Topliff didn't tap into such ravaging honesty throughout the show.
To "say" anything meaningful in 4.48 Psychosis—a play that nihilistically questions life's meaning via the mind of a terminally depressed woman—is an impossible hope, just as it was an impossible goal for Kane's doctors to guide their patient toward their arbitrary idea of normalcy. Her deranged brilliance lives on through her exploitation of the limitations of language in 4.48 Psychosis, but the Hunger Artists' production evades those limitations and circumvents this play's inherent capacity for truth.
4.48 PSYCHOSIS AT THE HUNGER ARTISTS THEATRE CO., 699-A S. STATE COLLEGE BLVD., FULLERTON, (714) 680-6803. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 7 P.M.; MARCH 6, 8 P.M. THROUGH MARCH 19. $15-$18; STUDENT & SENIOR DISCOUNTS AVAILABLE.