We Hear the Clock Tick in "4.48 Psychosis"

4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane, directed by thesis candidate Jordan Jozwik, opens Thursday, March 3 for a three-night run. The play was the last Kane wrote and the script is unconventional to say the least. There are no specifications about character, setting, stage direction, or even what is and is not dialogue. 4.48 Psychosis repeatedly asks the question, how can one dramatize blank spaces, a series of numbers, or words that tumble down a page?

The production tells the story of a woman anguished over her lack of connection and her earnest attempts to communicate. The reason the play is titled 4.48 Psychosis  is because 4:48 a.m. is the protagonist’s sole moment of lucidity during the day. Throughout the play she struggles with clinical depression and her experience with doctors and medicine. The play is fifty minutes long, ending with her moment of clarity, the minute every day she wakes and can think lucidly, 4:48 a.m.

The play’s reception and productions have historically been tied to the suicide of the author which Jozwik sees as a disservice to both Kane and 4.48. “It’s not a play about suicide.” Jozwik says. “It’s a play about communicating with people and reaching out. . .it’s upsetting that people devalue Kane’s work and say it’s just about her, that she wrote a long suicide note. . .I think this is a really rational play. It’s a rational way to react.”

In the past there have been productions of the play where pills rain down on the audience or the characters are dressed in bloodied hospital gowns. 4.48 has been categorized by critics as “in yer face” theater. Jozwik’s production goes a subtler route, delving into its darkness from a place of empathy. We hear murmurs of psychosis and clock ticks from a reality that lurks off-stage. There are microphones hidden within the set so that when Harris walks, falls, or beats her hands on the ground, we can hear her almost as if we were buried beneath her. In this production every motion and every minute counts.

The play is staged in the Black Box in the performing arts building with the set as a raised black square. Standing out against the darkness is the play’s one actor, Lily Harris ’16, dressed in white. Four risers surround the set with a large screen above each. Projected onto them is Harris’ inscrutable video portrait, which blinks and stares listlessly in grayscale. The video recording plays the roles of lover, doctor, and a shadowy ‘other’ in a shifting dialogue with the living Harris. They represent a diverging body and soul, both trying to reunite.

“These conversations she has,” says Jozwik of the scenes between the actor and the portrait, “they probably happened, but what’s on stage isn’t how they happened. It’s not what the doctor actually was saying, it’s how the patient remembers it. The play is all one span of time, fifty minutes inside someone’s mind.”

The mind we visit in 4.48 Psychosis is played without softening or apology for its pain. Harris is simultaneously the object of our intrigue and our Virgil. She carries the role into its depths with a flame of humanity. When she climbs atop the black square stage, we never want to see her go. When she descends, we long for our own minute of peace, after being left in the void.

4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane, directed by Jordan Jozwik, runs March 3–5 in the Black Box in the PAB. Tickets are $3 for the Reed community, $5 general admission, available now.