In 1938, one year before Sigmund Freud died of jaw cancer, painter Salvador Dalí supposedly met with the famed psychoanalyst. There's no evidence to prove the visit took place at all.
But the thought of what might have transpired tantalized Terry Johnson into writing "Hysteria: Or Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional Neurosis."
The 1993 play fictionalizes their encounter on three levels: British farce, dark mystery and Dalíesque dreamscapes.
"There's the sense of a fever dream someone has in the last moments before life ends," said Todd Olson, director of the upcoming American Stage Theatre co-production with Cape Cod's Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater.
Freud is at home, ill, doped up on morphine and unable to sleep. He receives Dalí and a young woman named Jessica. He wonders who she is. A patient? A student? Eventually he learns her story, only to find out later that she's been talking about a woman from 30 years ago. Surrealist elements invade Freud's study, leaving the audience to question whether they're watching reality or a dream.
"There was a technical aspect to this that we had to work out. How do you make Freud's study walls melt and then restore them to give the feeling that it could happen again? The challenge for the designers is for the set to do all these things — people being dragged offstage who come back as other people; stage direction where someone is standing onstage and then disappears; a swan flies through the air out of nowhere. It reaches a level where you pass through the looking glass and marvel at a dreamlike spectacle," Olson said.
Freud eventually rejected his early theories about sexuality, which led many to question the validity of his work. In Johnson's "dreamlike spectacle," Jessica is the vehicle that challenges Freud's professionalism. She is the result of his efforts, while Dalí's flamboyance represents fame's melodramatic façade. For Michael Edwards, who portrays Freud, this conflict is the story's crux.
"Freud was approaching senior citizen status. It's all about coming to grips with your mortality and what you want to leave. What do you want to be remembered for? What did Dalí want to be remembered for?" Edwards said.
Or Fragments of
an Analysis of an
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday;
through Oct. 21
Where: American Stage Theatre Company at the Raymond James Theatre,
163 Third St. N.,
depending on date and
time of performance; call
(727) 823-7529 or visit