Danielle Adessky’s version of 4:48 Psychosis is upfront with its intentions. The trigger warning before the performance lays bare its themes to the audience. The play tackles depression, suicide, and the efforts used to cope with them. These are bold, important themes worth a deep discussion and analysis. Psychosis features striking stage blocking and good performances, but ultimately struggles to do justice to its subject matter.
The play takes place in an abstract space draped with white curtains. Kari Teicher plays an unnamed woman coping with depression and suicidal ideation. She discusses her misery with four “voices” (portrayed by Adrianna Loewen, Brianna Dunn, Edie Chunn, and Vicky Coo) embodying her thoughts, fears, and anxieties. She is occasionally visited by her boyfriend (Jack Smith), who tries to comfort her and understand her mindset.
The actors acquit themselves fairly well to the play’s harsh subject matter. Teicher veers from dreary moping to visceral anger to resigned sadness with relative believability. She perfectly portrays the overwhelming sense of depression, and how its weight can crush someone and suffocate them.
Smith, with his brief appearances, acts like someone lost and adrift. He’s clearly in love with his girlfriend and seems confused as to how to comfort her. While some of his line readings were stiff, he nicely encapsulated a sense of frustration, sadness, and despair.
The “voices” are well-played, if somewhat static and repetitive. Coo, Loewen, Chunn, and Dunn throw themselves into their roles, voicing the thoughts of the woman with aplomb. At times comforting, menacing, or sad, the actors give body to the woman’s mentality. While the “voices” are performed well, they lack dynamism and variance, essentially all playing the same character. This issue reveals a deeper problem with the play.
Psychosis is a flexibly written play, with directors given the freedom to use as many or as few actors as they want. This version, with its four “voices,” creates a large embodiment of the woman’s depression. However, this literalization of sadness robs the play of greater intimacy. The “voices” externalize depression, making it difficult to connect with the woman’s struggles on a personal level. This choice doesn’t fully engage with depression, making it seem like an outside force, such as when the “voices” rhythmically chant at the woman, surrounding her.
This choice also affects the script. Lines are divided between the woman and the “voices,” and while many personal confessions are spoken by the woman, other important lines are given to the “voices.” This again takes away the personal damage of depression, making it seem like a group problem. Clearly, the “voices” are just extensions of the woman; but muddling her dialogue with them loses sight of her personal conflict.
There are emotionally powerful scenes in the play. The woman discussing her problems with her boyfriend, unable to articulate her depression, strikes a real chord. In addition, her discussion with a doctor shows how people struggle to understand the bleakness of the illness. The ending in particular shows genuine heart, eschewing the divided focus and narrowing in on the woman’s personal pain.
Psychosis addresses depression and its effects to mixed results. The performances consistently evoke real pain, but this pain is undermined by splitting the audience’s focus. By distracting from the main character, the play never fully addresses the roots of depression. It intermittently provides bursts of insight but fails to give suicide the proper discussion it deserves.