Theater archives

Battle of Ills


Two unlikely kinds of theater collide and obliterate each other in the sophomorically daft Some Historic/Some Hysteric. The first kind is the 19th-century operating theater in which physicians demonstrated medical procedures using live patients. The second kind is the contemporary avant-garde theater. When brought together to tell the story of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, a French neurologist who experimented on mentally ill women, the result is a mishmash of styles and time periods that falls well short of that most elusive kind of theater—good theater.

On a mostly bare stage, Dr. Charcot (Markus Hirnigel) practices his dubious form of medicine on eight young women suffering from “hysteria.” A woman in a red ball gown comments wryly on the action while a video presentation periodically interrupts all of the above. This strange play contains as much life as a morgue’s freezer and has the entertainment value of a lobotomist’s session. The bloodless formalism, ripped straight from the book of filmmaker Peter Greenaway, feels like a cheap pose. Worse still, the actresses who play the hysterical women are called on to humiliate themselves for our pleasure—one crawls around on all fours and barks like a dog; another gets stripped completely naked. The whiff of misogyny in the air is overpowered only by the stink of high-art pretension.