Dmitry Troyanovsky ’98, an assistant professor in the Department of Theater Arts, spent his summer far from Brandeis, all the way in China. He directed playwright Sarah Kane’s most recent and final work, “4.48 Psychosis,” at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre in. Troyanovsky said this was not the first time he has worked in China.
“I’ve been collaborating with Chinese artists and theater educators since 2011… People from the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre were aware of my work, so they invited me to do something,” Troyanovsky said.
“4.48 Psychosis” is mostly known for being the last play Kane wrote before she committed suicide. After the play was performed for the first time in 2000, a year after Kane’s death, it drew polarizing reviews. The drama critic, Michael Billington, described the play as the, “75-minute suicide note.”
However, this is not the approach Troyanovsky took when it came to stage his own production of the play. When asked about whether he thought the audience still enters into the theater with the same perception that the play is all Kane herself, he said, “I think it actually robbed the play of its theatrical core because if you treat the play as her biographic text you are forgetting that Sarah Kane didn’t write plays about herself, she put herself into her plays, but that’s different … I think we open up the possibilities of the play when we stop treating it as only a suicide note.” He added that the main character of the play “is another character who may be inspired by Sarah Kane, who may be similar to Sarah Kane, but it is another character.”
Throughout the years “4.48 Psychosis” has also allowed creative freedom, and as result, a vast breadth of interpretations of the play have been produced. The play’s freedom is actually one of the reasons why Troyanovsky jumped on the opportunity. “I wanted that challenge and that freedom,” Troyanovsky said. The distinct approaches to the play has mostly to do with the fact that “4.48 Psychosis” does not have a specific setting, or characters, nor does it have stage directions. According to Troyanovsky, his production differs from previous stagings because, “I was more interested in the aspect of psychosis—after all, the play is not called, ‘4.48 Depression,’ it is called, ‘4.48 Psychosis,’ so I was interested in a mind crisis.”
The way Troyanovsky and his collaborators put together the production departs from the ambiguity for which the play has come to be known as. It was also a nuanced and distinctive production from the “4.48 Psychosis” that was staged seven years ago at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, which revolved around depression instead of complete mental breakdown. One of the main aspects that makes production to production different is the setting. “I also noticed that when I was doing my research, productions of the play tend to fall into two categories, either a very specific, realistic kind of setting, [such as], hospital room, or psychiatrist’s office, or a totally abstract space—an empty space with a chair,” Troyanovsky said. He stated that he wanted to do a combination of both, but at the same time, “something that would be grounded in reality.”
Together with his designer Zane Philstrom, he tried to construct a setting that would be less abstract space and more realistic. Troyanovsky described the setting as “a jumble of memories. It is a house, it is a motel room, it is a hospital, it is a transitory space, it is hard to say exactly what it is, but it evokes powerful memories and feelings, and to me it seems like shards of a mind that is falling apart.”
Music was another key aspect for the production Troyanovsky had in mind. Although he had an idea of where he wanted to go with the music selection, during the rehearsal period it was completely improvised. The music served to amplify each movement and was always performed live. It rested upon the shoulders of two women, one in charge of playing the accordion and the other the double bass.
The choice of populating the seldom solo performed play interested Troyanovsky more. “I chose to do it with four actors and two musicians. I had two women and two men. I was interested in the idea of doubles and symmetry.” The language was a barrier, the actors spoke little English and the director little Chinese,“but it doesn’t make it impossible,” he said and added, “I think, eventually, my actors and I were really communicating through every means that theater offers to us.”
When asked what the play’s title meant to him, Troyanovsky responded, “Is ‘4.48’ the moment of psychosis, or is it the moment of ultimate clarity?”