This weekend, theater and psychoanalysis will have more in common than just sex drive.
The disciplines will collide in Xperimental Theater’s new production “Portrait of Dora,” a blistering feminist rewrite of Sigmund Freud’s groundbreaking case study, “Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.”
In an ironic reversal of fortune, feminist scholar and playwright Helene Cixous becomes the psychoanalyst. Freud and his Victorian contemporaries are demoted to the level of patients.
At issue in the play, just as it was in Freud’s case study, is whether Mr. K, a close friend of Dora’s father, had been intimately involved with Dora in her teenage years.
University senior and director Brooke Jackson said she fell in love with the play after she first read it.
“The style of writing and some of the themes that Cixous was really trying to convey were quite powerful and stunning,” she said. “It really spoke to me.”
Everyone should be listening to Cixous, she said.
The playwright’s insistence that women must write their own narratives to evade a male-dominated symbolic language remains the most prominent aspect of her thought.
“I think (Cixous) is really saying, ‘I’m not going to write the way that you want me to write,’ ” Jackson said. ” ‘I am not going to write your patriarchal language. I am going to tell my story and write my way, for my body.’ “
In his case study notes, Freud framed Dora’s relationship with Mr. K as an unreal event, a sign of her hysteric ability to imagine, instead of the product of Mr. K’s come-ons.
And so the question of the play is this: What really happened between Dora and Mr. K at the lake, a question that comes down to each character’s interpretation.
In the play, Freud interrogates everyone from Dora’s father to Mr. K’s wife. But all paint Dora as a dreamer.
Cixous examines these interpretations of Dora through the use of a continuous, poetic dialogue that resembles a trial, with Freud presiding like a judge.
“They’re trying to justify themselves and their actions to Freud,” Jackson said. “Because ultimately he is the one that will find the cure for Dora’s hysteria.”
An irresistible lesbian desire that Dora has for Mr. K’s wife is added into the play.
Jackson said she believes the lesbian tones in the play were Cixious’ way of showing the difference between a passive and active female representation.
“For me, Mrs. K is the passive female,” Jackson said. “Her sexuality is a result of being in a really restrictive and bourgeois society.”
The director adds that the most integral part of the production for her is the “voice of the play,” an omniscient voice that swoops down out of nowhere and intrudes critically on the action of the play.
“For me, the voice is Dora,” Jackson said. “It is that voice of Dora that has been taken away from her. So, really this play is about Dora trying to find that voice.”