Review: Wilma Theater’s “Hysteria”

By Terry Johnson
Wilma Theater
Directed by Jiri Zizka
Featuring Alvin Epstein, Mary McCool, Merwin Goldsmith, and Matthew Floyd Miller

10 Words or Less … A hallucinogenic collision of the worlds of Freud and Dalí.

Strengths … The strongest point of this production is the appearance of actor Alvin Epstein as Sigmund Freud. Mr. Epstein is the former artistic director of the Guthrie Theatre, Associate Director of Yale Repertory, and has numerous Broadway credits, including as Lucky in the American premier of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  His long and immensely successful career brings an extraordinary gravitas to Broad Street in his role as Freud during the last hours of his life, in which the psychoanalyst encounters Salvador Dali. Unfortunately, Epstein fell ill last week, leading to the cancellation of two shows. The Wilma’s publicist says his return is “slightly uncertain”.

Weaknesses … This is not a good play. The playwright, Terry Johnson, ambitiously but unsuccessfully attempts to unite elements of farce with intellectual realism. Hysteria lacks an aesthetic continuity as it jarringly jumps from the hilarity of buffoonery, horseplay, and character exaggeration to academic expositions of Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis. The abrupt transitions lead to a rhythm of dramatic frivolity and scholarly boredom that leaves the audience exhausted half way through Act One.

Verdict …
The play itself is the only truly poor component of this determined production. While the venerable Mr. Epstein is a star in his own accord, the rest of the cast works diligently to overcome the shortcomings of the script. The show is a visual treat, with a luxurious and mischievous set designed by Mimi Lien, whose work eloquently fuses the farcical and the naturalistic in a way that the playwright could not. If Epstein returns, don’t miss it. Otherwise, it’s a toss up.

Through June 14th at the Wilma Theater.  Tickets start at $39.