KPBS AIRDATE: June 20, 2003
Freud would have a field-day. There’s more century-spanning, soul-searing angst in two current productions than even the master could manage. The early 20th century perspective on neurosis emerges in “Fraulein Else” with the early 21st century represented in [sic]. Making its international debut at La Jolla Playhouse (in a co-production with Seattle Rep), “Fraulein Else” is the brainchild of Francesca Faridany, who adapted the novella written in 1924 by Austrian playwright/novelist Arthur Schnitzler. There are striking similarities between Freud’s famous hysteric, Dora, and Schnitzler’s Fraulein Else, created at about the same time. Faridany is the adolescent Else, in the breathless, 80-minute stream of consciousness that starts out as a “perfectly wonderful evening” at an Italian hotel-spa in 1912, and devolves into a downward-spiraling maelstrom triggered by a desperate letter from the young Fraulein’s mother back in Vienna. Thoughts tumble out of Else, who considers herself “high-spirited,” expressing every flighty, funny, sexy, whirlwind idea that pops into her head. We’re hauled along on a thrilling, neck-snapping ride, as this exuberant young girl, trapped by her society, is further constrained by her parents’ needs and debts. It’s a tragic story, wonderfully told. Faridany’s performance is breathtaking (though she barely gets to take a breath) and she’s magnificently directed by her husband, the inventive, acclaimed Stephen Wadsworth. Deep, palpable silences speak volumes, and you can hear the audience hold its breath. The set, lights and costumes are beautifully suggestive, and the support cast robust. But it is Faridany’s tour de force that charms, delights, appalls and ultimately astounds us.
The journey in [sic], the Obie Award-winning dark comedy by Melissa James Gibson, is a lot more bumpy and less direct. In a Manhattan building, we simultaneously watch a trio of hemmed-in, hyperverbal, studio-apartment-dwelling 30-something wannabe artists who are desperate but ineffectual in trying to connect with their careers, each other and the world around them. Meanwhile, in the upstairs flat, visible only from the knees down, a taciturn couple splits up and divides the spoils of their relationship. It’s a non-linear, bleakly comic view of urban angst, where Seinfeld-like, the lines come fast and furious but nothing really happens. Commissioned by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, it’s a perfectly nasty little challenge for Sledgehammer Theatre, and director Ruff Yeager gives this West coast premiere a deliciously twisted, rapid-fire staging. David Weiner’s multi-level set and David Cuthbert’s attention-grabbing lighting are terrific. Farhang Pernoon displays more of his astonishing versatility, and he’s marvelously matched by Jason Waller and Janet Hayatshahi. A lack of communication was never communicated so well. And neurosis never looked so good–in both plays. Don’t miss them!
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.