All I know is snow
and black despair
Sarah Kane’s last play before committing suicide, 4:48 Psychosis, reveals the unrelenting storm of the schizophrenic mind through poetic verse that marries content with form. While some critics have characterized the piece as a lengthy, self-‐indulgent suicide note, our production strove to connect audience members with the unbearable inner turmoil of the mentally ill. This was achieved by creating an immersive climate that pervaded spatial partitions.
One goal of the scenic design was to create a space where seemingly separate systems—audiences’ bodies, minds, imagination, attention, as well as actors’ words, sounds, voices, and presence—would interact and overlap, influencing each other and surpassing geographical boundaries. High-‐gloss paint, shining metal, and black mirrored plexi throughout gave the impression of the sleek reflection of wet rain, almost at odds with a mind pummeled by outside forces and trapped in a swirling tornado of thoughts and emotions. The play ends locked in the desert of the isolated mind, calmed only with the silence of falling “black snow.” Torn apart by the elements, the schizophrenic mind is confined, fragmented, and secluded unless purposely exposed.
Through this scenic and psychological landscape, the audience tangibly connected with the whirlwind of mental experiences inherent to schizophrenia. The director categorized portions of the text into three units, each denoted by a phrase from the script itself: Cage of Tears, The Waiting Room, and Dancing on Glass. Each of these portions of the play was performed simultaneously inside of the forty foot by forty foot black box theatre, separated only by light and one of three sheer black fabric panels that also served as video projection surfaces. The audience (split into three groups) engaged each piece in random succession, moving through the space until they had completed the circuit. The final scene of the play took place in the center of the theatre, uniting the three incarnations of the main character for the first and only time.
The scenic elements dictated the psychological and physical participation of the audience. Because each section was small and seating was only offered in the Dancing on Glass section, the audience was forced to stand uncomfortably close to the action. Though this immersed them in their immediate location, the other sections were a constant barrage on their senses, at times visually and audibly intrusive. Walking from section to section kept the audience alert and engaged—there was no opportunity to be simply a passive viewer. In these ways, each audience member shared the fragmented, chaotic, and ever changing terrain of the schizophrenic experience.