Sunday, 30 April 2000
Portrait of Dora, April 30, 2000
by Hélène Cixous at La Mama, April 30 until May 14, 2000
Bookings: 9347 6142
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
The directorial works of Laurence Strangio are always a treat at La Mama. He takes complex, poetic texts, generally by French women, and stages them in abstract, deceptively simple form.
After tackling pieces by Marguerite Duras and recently Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, Strangio stages Portrait of Dora. This is a chamber piece by Hélène Cixous, a French theorist and playwright who wrote for Ariane Mnouchkine's Companie Theatre du Soleil.
Strangio casts carefully, employing intelligent actors who penetrate the dense, psycho-analytical text of Cixous. This intensely intellectual play is based on Dora, an 18 year old "hysteric" treated by Sigmund Freud during 1899. It focuses on Dora's relationships with Freud, (Richard Bligh) her father (Bruce Kerr ) and Mr. and Mrs. K (Peter Finlay, Natasha Herbert), Dora's neighbours in Vienna.
Dora (Caroline Lee) reveals her dreams, fears and desires to Freud until she announces, on the first day of the 20th century, that she will not return.
But can we believe her stories? She accuses Mr. K of attempting to seduce her by a lake on a family holiday. She says her father has a long-standing affair with the glamorous Mr. K, that she herself idolises Mrs. K but resents the affair.
Strangio avoids naturalism like the plague, as does Cixous. He seats all five characters around a large metallic table. They slip in and out of light and in and out of each other's realities. Episodes, dreams, and time periods dissolve and merge. It is enhanced by wonderful lighting (Paul Jackson) and soundscape (Roger Alsop).
There is a sense of a mystery unfolding as Dora reveals snippets of her psyche through memories and dreams. There is a mesmerising atmosphere that is Strangio's trademark although the piece is peculiarly emotionally unengaging.
In a contemporary context, we must question Freud's capacity to understand this young woman. He feels obliged to lay his patterns of psycho-analysis over her complex and muddy neurosis.
The performances are excellent. Lee, manages to play the complexity of Dora, who is fragile, mean-mouthed, manipulative and often dislikeable child-woman. Bligh captures the quality of outsider/voyeur in Freud and Kerr portrays the dignity of Dora's father. Finlay uses his haunting voice and impeccable timing to great effect and Herbert is luminous and ethereal as Mrs. K.
But please, stop smoking on stage. It is distressing in an unventilated environment.
by Kate Herbert