'Memories of My Nervous Illness'

Julian P. Hobbs's Memories of My Nervous Illness seems to resonate from inside a tin can. This dismal study of psychopathia sexualis, based on a 1903 journal by an institutionalized judge (played here by Jefferson Mays), settles for a stilted design and mode of performance that suggests a bloodless screen adaptation of Edward Gorey illustrations. The film is set in Leipzig, Germany, but for all its dubious cultural specificity, we may as well be hanging out in Peoria, Illinois. Hobbs risks considerably less than Mays, who won a Tony for playing another German cross-dresser in I Am My Own Wife. Mays is devoted to humanizing the crisis that discombobulates the judge, who believes he can communicate with God through a secret "nerve language." His fixation with being a woman succumbing to intercourse is intriguingly contrasted with the crippling pain his wife suffers during multiple miscarriages, but the corset-like effect of the story's pretentious psychobabble isn't quite so perverse—rather taxing enough to dull the light in the ambitious Mays's crystal-blue eyes.

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