Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis is the haunting first production of the Davis Street Collective, the Bishop Arts District’s newest theater company. The troupe is mounting a limited run of the English playwright’s final play, which pries open a woman’s suicidal mind.
The intimate Davis Foundry Gallery places a single row of audience members around one woman as she unravels. In Kane’s work, written just months before she took her own life, the main character uses a rich poetry to address this subject, and each disjointed scene portrays a different aspect of her collapse. In this production, Alexandra Werle gives a staggering performance, flush with subtlety.
The only flaw of this production is its self-awareness — inevitable for a play that is effectively its creator’s suicide note.
Director Alia Tavakolian weaves the scenes together by giving Werle a counterpoint in Wes Chambers, who at separate times represents doctor, societal standards, a lover and even a reflection of herself. With the help of a creative team, Tavakolian also adds visual elements to complement the script’s savagery. The attention to detail is complicated and brilliant, piercing the subconscious like a well-placed needle.
About midway through the play, Werle confronts her doctor, who is veiled behind a sheet of paper. As she begs him to ask her why she slit her wrists, rather than force-feeding her answers, she is ripping white papers that seem to represent both the skin of her forearm and incisions on her mind. Later she prances around a room of balloons with Chambers, popping each one as they scream goals society has set for healthy human beings: “to avoid pain … to maintain self-respect … to laugh and make jokes.”
The only flaw of this production is its self-awareness — inevitable for a play that is effectively its creator’s suicide note. The eye contact the characters make with audience toes the line between cheesy and poignant.
As the play progresses to its inevitable end, Werle wears the accidental, playful grin seen only in cavernous grief. And each time she repeats her desire to end her life at 4:48, the play grows more chilling.
The Davis Street Collective has turned 4.48 Psychosis into a must-see production. The quick 75 minutes extend into the night, as Kane’s words remain palpable for hours.
4.48 Psychosis runs through June 7 at Davis Foundry Gallery.