Thursday, April 30, 2015


Playwright: Terry Johnson

VenueThe Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO, 80302.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission). 

Date of Performance:  Wednesday, April 29, 2015. 

I don’t know if I can define Hysteria.  The script seems to defy definition.  What I can say, however, is that Hysteria is a unique, jarring, and utterly exquisite experience.  On leaving the theater after the show, I heard it described as a “tragicomedy,” and as a “historical fictional comedy.”  In my view, both those descriptions are lacking.

It is debatable whether it’s even necessary to put a label on Hysteria, but the temptation is strong as it does not fit into any of our convenient categories.  My stab at a label, “psychohistorical dramatic introspection,” is also lacking.  Whatever you call it, it’s clear that Boulder Ensemble has just added Hysteria to its long list of intelligent, provocative and rewarding productions.

Is Hysteria a comedy?  Perhaps.  It’s very funny in spots, with jokes intentionally inserted into an otherwise serious situation.  Still, to me, there so much more to Hysteria than punch lines that I cannot in good conscience call it a comedy.

Hysteria is a fictional account of real event:  the July, 1938 meeting between psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and artist Salvadore Dali.  The meeting itself is ripe with potential; one of the most influential psychiatrists in history sitting down with one of the most original artists of the 19th and 20th centuries is a tantalizing topic.  The script includes some important historical facts.  Dali did in fact bring his latest painting to the meeting.  Freud was somewhat ambivalent about Dali’s work.
Chris Kendall (Sigmund Freud), Michael Bouchard (Salvadore Dali).
The script highlights one other significant historical fact:  that in 1896, Freud proposed that hysteria, an over diagnosed and generally female dysfunction, was caused by childhood sexual abuse.  That Freud abandoned this theory by 1898 becomes one of the central plot issues in Hysteria.

Beyond a few isolated facts, however, Hysteria is not meant to be taken as a historically accurate account of the meeting.  Rather, it is a bit of a mashup of facts, fantasy, and speculation.  And, I should add, it is an extremely entertaining mashup at that.

The four main cast members here are uniformly excellent.  Michael Bouchard does a spot on impression of the narcissistic Dali, referring to himself in the third person and replacing Freud’s Picasso with his own latest painting.  Chris Kendall is Sigmund Freud, complete with heavy German accent and period specific horn rimmed glasses.  Jim Hunt plays Yahuda, Freud’s personal doctor and sometimes critic of Freud’s controversial writings.  Lauren Bahlman (Jessica), however, becomes the center of attention for both Freud and Dali, intruding and imposing on both men.

This remarkable cast is joined onstage by several others, including Heather Fey and Silas Hall, near the end of the show, in what will be remembered by many as the defining scene of the entire play.

Bouchard, Hunt, Kendall, and Bahlman are all talented, engaging professionals, but here the whole seems to be much greater than the sum of its parts.  It is like watching a Formula One race car on a winding road; they rev, accelerate, brake, and crash together as if all of a piece of the same machine.
Michael Boudchard (Salvador Dali), Lauren Bahlman (Jessica).

It’s difficult to describe more of the plot without giving too much away, so I will limit the details to a paltry few.  Freud is dying of mouth cancer, and Yahuda is treating him by relieving his pain.  Jessica intrudes, demanding that Freud treat her psychiatric symptoms.  The events that follow are suitable for a Dali painting; they are surreal, dreamy, and sometimes beyond belief.  Don't be surprised if you find yourself wondering what is real and what is fantasy.  The line is deliberately blurred.  Remember.  It is difficult to understand what is real and what is fantasy in a Dali painting.  Hysteria is something of a live theater version of a Dali canvas.

Kerry Cripe's set is stunning; the interior of Freud's office seems a fully natural fit for the good Doctor.  The constant rain in the window is probably the best onstage creation of weather you will ever see.  Cripe's piece de resistance here are small, subtle touches that turn the set into a three dimensional Dali painting.  The effect is extraordinary.

Richard Devin's lighting design is extremely effective, especially in the extended dream sequence of the second act.  I think the proper description is "brilliance," literally and figuratively.

Director Michael Stricker is gifted with a marvelous cast, and he wisely turns them loose to do what they do best.  They do not let him down.  Striker sets a careful pace, making the playwright's points with appropriate pauses to let those points sink in. Stricker had a substantial challenge here.  He had to make a script that features ideas and dialog (as opposed to action) sufficiently engaging to captivate his audience.  He succeeded.  Wildly.

The central point to Hysteria is not the comedy.  It is that Jessica forces Freud to explain and justify his psychiatric theories.  In essence, she puts Freud on the couch to face analysis.  It is a difficult reversal for Freud, and he resists as long as he can.  Doctors rarely make good patients, and Freud is no exception.  He won’t take the advice he himself would give to a patient in his circumstances.  Doing so would require him to admit to errors, and that’s something doctors rarely do.

Doctors, of course, do make errors.  Unlike the errors most of us make at our jobs, doctors are sometimes said to “bury their errors.”  The stakes are very high for doctors, and Freud is reluctant to investigate the consequences of his theories and his treatments.

Hysteria is ultimately about psychiatric analysis and the consequences for all involved.  While there are jokes along the way, make no mistake.  Hysteria is a serious show about a serious subject.  This is riveting, creative, entertaining, and, best of all, profound theater.  Hysteria will grab you by the lapels, shake you up, and challenge you to listen and learn.  I walked out thinking “this is why I love theater.”  You will too.
Jim Hunt (Yahuda) and Chris Kendall (Sigmund Freud).


This show, in my view is appropriate for teenagers over 16.  However, discretion is advised; there is some nudity.

There is ample free parking at the theater and on the surrounding streets.  Overflow parking is made available when there are multiple events at the Dairy Center.


This show will close on May 17, 2015.


Zolo Grill, 2525 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder.  We tried the Zolo because we saw it on the Boulder Ensemble “BETC Top Picks.”  With an extensive tequila list and a Happy Hour from 3:00to 6:00 PM, Zolo is a great choice for excursions to the Dairy Center.  The restaurant is not even a 5 minute drive from the theater, and (this is my favorite part) you can park right outside the front door.  I had a Post “Howdy” craft Pilsner (brewed at the Post Brewery in Lafayette).  Roxie had the house marg, and found it cold and tasty.  The pinto beans on the side was the only downside for me; they are prepared more like chili beans, with onions and assorted other ingredients.  These are not your traditional refried beans.  We had our choice of 3 dining “rooms:” inside, breezeway, and patio.  


Producing Ensemble Director:  Stephen Weitz

Director:  Michael Stricker

Production Manager:  Andew Metzroth

Lighting Designer:  Richard Devin

Sound Designer:  Andrew Metzroth

Set Designer:  Kerry Cripe

Costume Designer:  Markas Henry

Stage Manager:  Kassandra Kunisch

Assistant Stage Managers:  Silas Hall, Nathan Spurgeon

Dialect Coach:  Tammy Meneghini


Jessica:  Lauren Bahlman

Salvadore Dali:  Michael Bouchard

Abraham Yahuda:  Jim Hunt

Sigmund Freud:  Chris Kendall

Additional Cast:  Heather Fey, Silas Hall

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