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A CurtainUp Review
4.48 Psychose

Isabelle Huppert
I. Huppert
(Photo: Richard Termine)
I recall my first reading of Sarah Kane's 4:48 Psychosis well. It began outside but as I continued reading I found myself compelled to move indoors, first to my living room sofa and eventually to the bedroom. It's that kind of work.

Director Claude Régy has staged it, in French translation, on the expansive thrust of the stage at BAM's Harvey Theater. On it, he has placed the static image of the work's principal voice (the estimable French actress, Isabelle Huppert); behind a scrim covering the entire proscenium, he positions a second voice (Gérard Watkins-- a doctor, a lover, a friend, or perhaps just an inner voice). This choice subverts my instinct, but effectively conveys the notion of a woman frozen in a larger world in which she finds herself unable to function.

Huppert gives us a remarkable image, and an acting exercise of astonishing proportion. Through one and three-quarter hours of performance, her shoulders do not move, she does not shift, and her eyes blink infrequently. The most frequent physical activity we see is in her hands from which, at her side, she periodically extends her pinkie finger. (Late in the show, all of her fingers will arc.) For most of the show, she speaks in monotone. That she can sustain our attention is a remarkable achievement. This is particularly true for those who cannot follow the play in French; there are only "abridged" surtitles in English, which are projected practically out of the audiences field of vision.

A synopsis of Sarah Kane is essential. A young British playwright whose plays were immediately a shot across the theatrical bow, she committed suicide (after many attempts) shortly after completing this, her fifth and final script. Being a play about suicide -- 4:48 is said to be the time in the early morning at which, statistically, most suicides occur -- 4.48 Psychose (4:48 Psychosis in English) is perhaps as close to a precise exploration of the mind of a suicide victim as one will ever find.

Kane wrote the piece without assigning any of its lines to specific characters. On paper, it looks more like a poem than a play. Implicitly, it is thus an invitation to directors to fathom its construction. Régy has interpreted it sparsely, and in a way that reïnforces the notion that the play's "others" are in fact a cacophony of voices residing only in the writer/principal character's mind. It's a tough piece of theater under any circumstances, but this director has opted to avoid the opportunity to use theatricality to make it resonate more explicitly.

There is evidence -- in a note from the director included in the press materials and also in the instruction I received from the usher (that the director did not want the audience talking before the show!) -- that the intent was to create something of a psychotherapy session between patient and audience. At imes, it was an enlightening experience, but ultimately it was not a particularly successful one.

4.48 Psychose
by Sarah Kane, French translation by Evelyne Pieiller
Directed by Claude Régy
with Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Watkins
Set Design: Daniel Jeanneteau
Costume Design: Ann Williams
Lighting Design: Dominique Bruguière
Sound Design: Philippe Cachia
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes with no intermission
BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street (Ashland/Rockland), Brooklyn
Telephone (718) 636-4100
Opening )ctober 19, 2005, closes October 30, 2005 Oct 19-22, 25-29 @7:30; Oct 23, 30 @3; $25-65
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 10/22/05 performance
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