The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Patti Hadad, May 19, 2006, Arts

4:48 Psychosis

The Vortex, through May 28

Running time: 50 min

Griping that a play about suicide is too depressing is like complaining that a funeral is insufficiently cheery. When you find out that the playwright hung herself with a shoelace in the hospital after a failed attempt at suicide a week after she wrote the play, any hope for a happy ending is kind of lost. But when the author, Sarah Kane, has been applauded so much in London for her aggressive In-Yer-Face theatre that she achieves a cult following that trails down to Texas, then you know it to be one extraordinary suicide note. And it is. The script reads like free-form poetry, with no mention of character names or a set or even stage directions. Since it's unprompted, there can be countless versions and interpretations, most of which center on a suffering woman like Kane.

The Vortex Repertory Company, a group that celebrates darkness so much that it should be called "Our Lady of Incarnate Darkness," in association with Renaissance Austin Theatre, has created its own three characters by naming a Victim, a Perpetrator, and a Bystander, with the audience cast as "Bystander." You won't be pulled onstage, but you'll be pulled into the spiraling whirlpool of the Victim's emotions, flogged by a psychiatric disorder, and spun into collapse. Her symptoms come in waves: insomnia, anger, loss of appetite, drop in sexual desire, irritability, anxiety, feelings of unworthiness.

At 4:48am, she reaches the lowest point of human will and rests in a single hour of sanity, Kane's sweet if sadly twisted allusion to a prince in one of the Chronicles of Narnia books. Her doctor diagnoses her condition as "pathological grief." A little dialogue explodes a long way with the Perpetrator's aggravatingly indirect questions and the Victim's hard-hitting answers on her left cheek.

Lorella Loftus' Bette Davis eyes and rolling Scottish dialect weigh her words and augment the regality of the Victim's dialogue, which crescendos into shouts at God, an absent lover, the passing Bystander, and herself. Her rants fall upon Patricia Wappner's doctor, who nonchalantly lists the pharmaceutical drugs as if she were part of an infomercial. Kane was not, in her last days, without a lighter side; she has the Victim say, "I dreamt I went to the doctor's. She gave me eight minutes to live. I'd been sitting in the fucking waiting room for half an hour." There are those Bystanders brave enough to laugh at the clinical "pong" that comes after a guttural "fuck you."

The victim is not only torn with bipolar disorder but also competes between the forces of doctor and patient, reality and reveries, sanity and illness. They're split against Ann Marie Gordon's steel backdrop, which looks like lightning and shines well with Fallon Graffe's bold flashes of light for emotion. One really gets the full abysmal experience of being clinically depressed in the 48 minutes of the show. Its language is so brutal that it will push the happiest Bystander into that dark room of despair.

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