2nd Story Theatre’s artistic director, Ed Shea, likes to take audiences places they have never been before, and his latest opus, Hysteria, is no exception.
This is a very odd play, a cross between a zany farce and a chilling drama. What’s remarkable is that under Shea’s capable direction, it all works so brilliantly.
Shea did a wonderful job portraying psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in Freud’s Last Session a few years ago and reprises the role here. Freud is a deeply tormented man whose beliefs are questioned after he is visited by a mysterious woman named Jessica, who promptly sheds all her clothes and takes refuge in a closet. Another of Freud’s visitors is the famous painter Salvador Dali, who seeks Freud’s validation for his work. Dali becomes smitten with Jessica and chases her around Freud’s living room, which flummoxes the good doctor to no end. Freud also has to explain to his friend Yahuda why there are women’s undergarments scattered all over his yard. All of this is played as screwball comedy before Jessica makes a shocking confession. No spoilers here, except I will say this play deals with some very dark themes.
The power of Hysteria comes from the performances. Shea knows how to convey great pathos as well as haughty arrogance. Freud has spent his life digging into the psyches of his patients but is revealed to be as troubled as the people he treated. Lara Hakeem, who starred in Venus in Fur at 2nd Story last year, delivers another stellar performance as Jessica. Hakeem is always mesmerizing to watch as she pushes Freud seemingly to his breaking point. Luis Astudillo makes a delightfully wacky Dali, who endures his own share of torments. Michael McAdam, who starred in last summer’s Die Mommie Die as his drag queen alter ego Payton St. James, gets some laughs as Yahuda has to deal with the insanity unfolding all around him.
Hysteria ends on a somewhat ambiguous note. It left me wanting to know more about Sigmund Freud and what drove him. As a piece of theater, Hysteria is compelling and will keep you entranced until the end.
Hysteria runs through February 14. 2nd Story Theater, 28 Market St, Warren. For tickets, call 401-247-4200 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org