Raising Kane

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This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

1,670,341 people in Los Angeles County are feeling awfully depressed this week. But as bad as at feels for those who voted Democratic on Tuesday, this weekend UCLA Live! is offering a chance for theatergoers to experience an even deeper sense of depression: Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis.

4.48 Psychosis is a short, intense play that is literally the last words of a troubled and wounded soul. The play's author, Sarah Kane, suffered from intense manic depression and wrote 4.48 Psychosis after a long stint in a South London hospital. Shortly after finishing the play, Kane swallowed 150 antidepressants and 50 sleeping pills. She was rushed to the hospital by friends and survived-but two days later Kane hanged herself with her shoelaces in a hospital restroom.

4.48 Psychosis was produced in London the year after Kane's death and this final work stunned audiences, due to its uncomfortably autobiographical details and it's powerful dramatic impact. Thankfully, the Royal Court Theatre is sending this premiere production on a tour of the United States, starring two of three original cast members and staged by the original director James MacDonald.

Anyone who saw the Los Angeles premiere of Kane's Blasted this past summer knows how difficult it is to realize the playwright's vision onstage. The small production in Burbank tried valiantly with Blasted, but the actors couldn't master the British accents and Beckett-esque cadences of the dialogue-and the director was unable to make the play work as a whole.

Neither of these problems mar this British production. First of all, Psychosis 4.48 is a much shorter and less intellectually sprawling work than Blasted, but this does not diminish director MacDonald's work. He somehow makes the text-which often seems more like a poem or monologue-seem entirely theatrical. With the actors, he creates mini-scenes within the extended rant, giving shape and pacing to the work.

MacDonald is also helped by Jeremy Herbert's set design. The set for Psychosis 4.48 consists only of a table and a chair, but above these objects-and the whole set-is a large diagonal mirror which reflects all of the action on stage from a slightly different perspective. The effect of this is twofold: first it creates a sort of split personality to the whole piece, as you find yourself watching some scenes straight on and others in the reflection. Second, when the performers are lying down on the stage-which given the melancholy tone of much of the work, is quite often-they appear as if they are floating, in a sort of altered, out-of-body state.

But as impressive as the stagecraft is, what ultimately makes this production of Psychosis 4.48 so convincing is the acting. The two british actors, Jason Hughes and Jo McInnes, were in the world premiere of the work four years ago, and their familiarity with the piece-and their connection to it-is clear. McInnes must be singled out for her performance. During one extended monologue, the actress leads the audience into the darkest corners of Kane's mind. McInnes manages to convey rage, confusion, and fear without ever treading close to cliches.

Marin Ireland is the third actor on stage. She was not a member of the original cast; but while her American accent jarring, especially given the other performers accents as well Kane's use of British slang, her acting is strong enough to keep pace with Hughes and McInnes.

But even with the best acting, Sarah Kane's work is not for everyone. Psychosis 4.48 is a dark, probing piece of serious theater-the 4.48 in the title comes from the time of day that Kane felt she was most lucid, and therefore most capable of taking her own life. But even if the subject matter is grim, this production of Psychosis 4.48 comes alive due to the passion of the actors and director who clearly believe that Sarah Kane's words need to be spoken.

4.48 Psychosis opens tonight at UCLA's Freud Playhouse.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.