Viterbo University is staging a piece of physical theater that looks inside the mind of a woman with severe clinical depression and thoughts of suicide.
The play, “4:48 Psychosis” written by British playwright Sarah Kane, is a collaboration of the school’s theater and dance departments. It has a three-day run starting Thursday in the La Croix Black Box Theatre.
Jill Iverson, a Viterbo junior, portrays the woman with depression and is the only character in the play, with a dozen or so performers who act as her and others’ thoughts and feelings through movement.
Some people think the play was the playwright’s suicide note because she committed suicide in 1999 before its first performance at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre in London.
Kane voluntarily committed herself twice and was in the general ward of a hospital when she killed herself.
“I think it is an important, powerful and engaging piece of theater, but I’m afraid it might scare some people off,” Iverson said. “But we get to see this woman’s world looking out. She is up and down, angry and then at peace.
“She didn’t want to die. This was her last resort, and she thought no one was taking her seriously,” she said. “It’s a story worth telling and hearing.”
Co-directors David Gardiner, Viterbo theater faculty member, and Nikki Balsamo, Viterbo’s dance instructor, said they sought advice from mental health professionals and members of a local suicide prevention group in telling the story.
“The script has no directions but is a poetic piece, personal and image rich,” Gardiner said. “There’s lots of movement to tell the story, and it’s a challenging piece.”
Gardiner said 4:48 refers to the time in the morning when the playwright awoke after her medication wore off.
“This play is about a woman’s struggle to survive,” Gardiner said. “She felt she was not being heard and needed help.”
Gardiner said performers act like a Greek chorus, with bodies forming images, and lighting and sound add to the physical theater.
Without stage directions, Balsamo said, students had a lot of input in movement and their roles.
“It’s kind of experimental for us, and people will not see a traditional play,” Balsamo said. “We want everyone to think about: Who do I know, and am I hearing that person?
“The subject matter is pretty scary stuff, and we don’t sugar coat it, but it’s also not in your face,” Balsamo said.
Both Gardiner and Balsamo like the collaborative effort of two art forms and challenging their students.
“It’s the power of theater to say something so fundamental about human beings,” Gardiner said. “It says something about how difficult it is to stay afloat in life, and we all need some help some time — and the need for understanding of all human ailments.”