Review: 4.48 Psychosis (NSK Theatre)

Picture of Richard Veltri and Alina Starkov4.48 Psychosis Captures a State of Mind, Now Playing in Toronto

NSK Theatre is mounting a short run of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis in Toronto’s Storefront Theatre. 4.48 is a harrowing portrayal of depression and suicidal ideation, and the last work Kane produced before taking her own life in 1999.

I’ve heard 4.48 described as a very long suicide note being performed onstage. The play is not written with characters, just lines that could be divvied up between any number of actors. For this reason, any production of 4.48 will necessarily have a healthy dose of dramaturgy. So if the subject matter isn’t enough to make this a complex piece, this is a show that often forays into abstraction.

NSK Theatre’s interpretation of the text is split between three actors and, for the most part, feels like a very conventional dialogue. The show was fast-paced and quite short, clocking in at just over an hour long. I felt like it could have been padded with more silent vignettes and movement pieces, because it was in those segments that the production shined.

This play is not telling a story, but rather capturing a state of mind. To me, this production is a success if you can come away from it with the slightest inkling of Kane’s immense suffering as she was writing it. In this case, I did experience some gut-wrenching moments, though I didn’t feel anything resonating throughout the entire production. My guest remarked that she did not have any such experience.

I enjoyed all of the actors’ performances. 4.48 was directed by Alina Starkov, who also took the lead role as a woman suffering from major depression and struggling with thoughts of suicide. Richard Veltri portrayed her lover, a likable everyman struggling to hold her together. Dina Levin portrayed her cold therapist, scared of becoming close with her patient. Across the board, all three of the actors had great movement onstage, and some expertly choreographed silent vignettes left me with the strong impression that they were all trained dancers.

I thought the lighting was very well done for what must have been the most minimalist rig I’ve seen, but my guest was left wanting for something more elaborate.

My biggest gripe about the production is its heavy reliance on Max Richter’s score from the HBO show, The Leftovers. I like the song and I’d recommend the series, but was frustrated to hear it playing almost nonstop throughout this play. It distracted from the source material and the actors’ performances. I’m happy to sit in the dark listening to good music for an hour, but that’s not what I came for and it felt like a cheap way to solicit my emotions.

In sum, this is a heavy and deeply emotional play that deals with some very serious, dark subject matter. I think that it warrants a viewing, but also that it won’t be a good fit for a lot of people due to the nature of the source material. I thought that NSK Theatre’s production was an earnest expression of this challenging play, but for a script that invites experimentation, they played it rather safe.


Photo of Richard Veltri and Alina Starkov provided by the company.