A Hysterical Look at Freud

There seems little amusing at first in the premise of Terry Johnson’s offbeat theatrical hit “Hysteria,” which is being performed this weekend by the Phnom Penh Players.

Sigmund Freud molders in British exile on the eve of World War II, puffing on cigars as cancer eats away at his jaw. He believes he will never again see his elderly sisters (who are, in fact, doomed to perish under the Nazis). He’s seen his theories championed by self-indulgent Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali.

If things aren’t bad enough, a strange woman confronts the ailing Freud, performs a desperate striptease, and accuses him of dodging the implications of his research for personal gain.

Yet “Hysteria” is often hysterical, even as Freud himself edges closer toward physician-assisted suicide, a naked woman and a descent into his own mind. Shows are 8 pm at the Russian Cultural Centre.

Although the opening scene dwells on Freud’s isolation, things quickly liven up as a naked woman in his closet leaves him with plenty of explaining to do.

First performed at London’s Royal Theatre in 1992, the play presents a challenge to the Phnom Penh Players, with its intricate blend of humor and pathos. But under the direction of Sarah Stephens and Beth Moor­thy, the cast comes through, with a production that audiences should find enjoyable.

Peter Darch’s energetic performance as Freud achieves the right combination of grief, agitation and outrage; while Shennia Spillane is convincing as the stubborn exhibitionist on a mysterious mission.

Alan Morgan is an imposing moral presence as Freud’s friend and personal physician Dr Yahuda, and Dindo Divinagracia is clearly enjoying himself as he acts out the bizarre obsessions of painter Dali.

 

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