OK, so it’s about Sigmund Freud, and he’s in London, trying to rest, and this girl shows up and it turns all farcical, but then later it’s a psychological drama, and the clock melts because Salvador Dali is there.
Terry Johnson’s “Hysteria” is an interesting piece of work, to say the least. It’s based on a few historical incidents (Freud and Dali really did meet once, briefly) and employs broad farce for much its storytelling. It also becomes deathly serious as it raises provocative questions about the nature of psychology.
Freud (Gene Pack) is a dying man, hoping for some peace and quiet in London in 1938. In the middle of a rainstorm, a girl named Jessica (Kristin Kahle) shows up, sopping wet, insisting she must speak with him. When Freud’s doctor, Yahuda (Tony Larimer), shows up, Freud keeps her locked in the closet to avoid the awkwardness of explaining what’s going on; the arrival of surrealist painter Dali (Joe Pitti) just complicates things.
Eventually, we learn why Jessica is there: She wants Freud to re-enact some sessions he had with a woman, someone in whose life Jessica has a vested interest. Emotionally blackmailed by her, Freud goes along with it, hoping to get rid of her but leading himself to examine his psychological theories and teachings.
The first act drags, and is uneven in tone. The farce tends to seem overly buffoonish, simply because it’s in such stark contrast to the intellectualism of the rest of the play. Still, you have to give Johnson credit for even trying such a strange combination, even if it’s not entirely successful.
Those provocative questions mentioned earlier do not come into play until the second act, and the show ends very well. It’s an unusual theater experience, perhaps not to everyone’s tastes and certainly not for the casual theatergoer, but something to chew on, anyway.
Such an odd combination: psychological mystery and farce. I guess if "The Producers" can have a musical comedy about Hitler, then any combination is possible.