The torment within

The Gamm’s intense 4:48 Psychosis
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  January 20, 2010


In dramatic terms, it doesn't really matter whether the female protagonist of 4:48 Psychosis commits suicide at the end of the play. Not any more than its relevant that its author, Sarah Kane, killed herself not long after typing "END." As Kane and the riveting 72 minutes of the current Gamm production show, in such a life and death circumstance, the tick-tock of moment-to-moment, yes/no existence is the only matter that's real.

Casey Seymour Kim is the unnamed woman, and Tom Gleadow is her doctor in this brave Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre excursion (through February 7). The courage isn't because of the subject, since depression and mental illness are innately involving in human terms — the first post-show talk-back session was packed — but rather because of the difficulty of staging this particular play. It's so intense. Strident. Kane takes us on a psychological roller coaster ride that's nearly all plummets and honest-to-goodness screams.

Drama is about maintaining the tension of conflicting needs or desires. And what could be more fraught than the either-or, no-middle-ground question of suicide? Yet, by all rights audiences could be expected to withdraw from empathy soon after entering this woman's ranting display of pain and suffering. Compassion fatigue is not a challenge dramatists often face. But thanks to the playwright's canny structure, director Tony Estrella's well-timed easing of the anguish, and Kim's every-moment focus, the center does hold, at least for us as witnesses, as the terrified woman's internal anarchy is loosed upon her world.

The title refers to the fact that shortly before 5 am each morning, the tormented woman's confused thoughts lift for a period of brief clarity. This is one of the things that gives her hope, this sample of sanity. "Remember the light — believe the light," she reminds herself. Such hope isn't made much of until toward the end, but it is a polestar, not so much guiding her way as occasionally being glimpsed through the forest canopy of her dark thoughts. In fact, at the opening her doctor points out and asks: "You have friends. What do you offer your friends to make them so supportive?" We never meet these friends or hear anything from them, only from the doctor who is ineffectively trying to help her mind mend.

"I need to become who I already am," she says. "How will I know her when I see her?" She curses God "for making me a person who does not exist!" She shouts that, but if those words had been scrawled in the notebook she is constantly, feverishly jotting observations into, they likely would have been followed by a picket fence of exclamation points. Examples of this are projected by videographer Mike Jones, along with such black-and-white images as a bleak winter landscape with snow falling, which brackets the play. We also see a photograph of her as a child, a person who in a chilling, literal way is dead, as the woman observes. In the context of her struggle to identify herself in a meaningful way, this perception is powerful, revealing her existential plight more vividly than anything Camus or Sartre pontificated about.

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