Eric Jan Hanussen was a popular hypnotist, mentalist, and occultist during the Weimar Republic and the beginning of Nazi Germany. He instructed Hitler how to speak with dramatic effect and was, in addition, his astrologer. Hypnotik declares itself loosely based on his life. ‘Sounds like an interesting premise, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the only connection I could make was the portrayal of a stage hypnotist and his subjects who have been symbols of the amorality prevalent during the period.
Volunteers (actors) are invited on stage and remain present, commenting on one another’s experience, all of which is structured exactly the same. These include a sexually confused soldier, an actress whose infanticide is milked to expand press coverage, a film maker whose control of the popular audience is more important than the content of his work, and a predatory, widowed countess hoping to replace her cruelly dominant spouse. Each expecting to be “healed” instead rebels. A fifth character, whose identity remains in question until the end, interferes with whispers. When tables turn, it seems without dramatic purpose or effect.
Had Alfred Jarry tried to write Ubu Roi on acid, discovering after the fact that he’d produced a sheaf of erratic text instead of the piece he intended, it might’ve resembled this play in which even the title goes astray.
Dialogue by Colm O’Shea, Marie Glancy O’Shea, and Ildiko Nemeth created a disjointed, ambiguous piece without insight or clarity. Dialogue is dense, cliché-ridden and/or obscure.
A game cast is without particular distinction due, at least in part, to pedestrian direction by Ildiko Nemeth.
Production design, however, is excellent.
Jessica Sofia Mitrani’s costumes keep within a black, grey, beige, and white palette with remarkable originality and variety, especially where textures are concerned. A dual purpose metal pregnancy bump is extremely clever as is the use of metallic body suits sometimes covering shoes. Mitrani’s off kilter take on defining characters is appropriately dark and always visually interesting. Make-up is also quite splendid. Faces are white with effective, stylized, caricature details.
Set design also by Ildiko Nemeth is simple and striking. Well placed rows of small lights create a proscenium stage and a center ring surrounded by deepest darkness.
“No one wakes up suddenly in hell/There’s no pitchforks, no flames, no sulphur smell…” sing three chorus girls in an opening number which loses intelligibility from there on. The truthful and intriguing statement is a good premise for the play we didn’t see.
Hypnotik—The Seer Will Doctor You Now Conceived and Directed by Ildiko Nemeth
Written by Colm O’Shea, Marie Glancy O’Shea, Ildiko Nemeth
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue
Through January 15, 2012