A very severe, observant, reserved 19th century scientist was Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, master of hysterical women at Salpetriere Asylum in Paris. His work with some 5000 committed women created neuropsychology and inspired Freud’s psychology. He’s also been the inspiration for numerous feminist theories, diatribes and artist explorations.
In this sweeping multi-media theater piece conceived by Jessica Sofia Mitrani and Ildiko Nemeth, also directed Markus Hirnigel as Dr. Charcot by Nemeth, actor Markus Hirnigel plays Charcot as a mystical idolizer-examiner of basically sad, frightened women escaping their unhappy realities and environments. Along with Dr. Charcot, “Some Historic/ Some Hysteric” permits us entry into some of their wildly imaginative, colorful, and often artistic minds.
The scientific questions such as why and how and how long any human mind checks out are explored intimately with clocks, measuring devices and endless notes on the bodily functions of the young women in the cast. All portray their hysteria in the most natural way, as if somewhere in all women lurks the hysteric’s potential, waiting for that singular pyrotechnical, emotional event to set them aflame.
However, the asylum’s bigger issue was how to help these patients, many of whom appear to revel in the asylum’s safety. Dr. Charcot’s acts of observation and experimentation with these fragile minds and bodies is the point of this movement and video extravaganza. An exquisite Victorian interlocutor, played by Denice Kondik, explains and comments on Dr. Charcot’s theatrical proceedings while he show off his patients at his Tuesday Lectures, demanding they perform their hysteria with their bodies. Is she too a former inmate, or another exploiter of this pathetic Theater of Hysteria? Is hysteria itself a state of theater she asks, in which the body and mind act out and through life’s challenges until they are reconciled and the pain is manageable?
Using the writings of French feminist artist Claude Cahun as a multi-media statement of women’s desires along side Freud’s statements on hysteria and sexual agitation, this play gives us a complex insight into contemporary attitudes towards women’s performance art. Are experimental performers basically hysterics? Are there hysterical influences that can drive art practice and perhaps create real hysteria in artists and audience? It’s no comfort that the fragility of women’s lives are always subjects for artists in every genre and discipline. If there’s anything about hysteria that comes across to me from this play it’s that women artists should be caring for women hysterics.
Innovative Theatre Awards 2007:
Outstanding Performance Art Production (nomination)
Outstanding Ensemble (nomination)
Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role – Denice Kondik (nomination)