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Review: PORCUPINE at Bywater Wonderland

This zany psychoanalytic masterpiece runs for one more weekend

Review: PORCUPINE at Bywater Wonderland
Vatican Lokey as Sigmund Freud
Photo by Eric Siemens

Dr. Sigmund Freud is making a return visit to the United States, this time as a literary figure in the immersive theatrical experience, PORCUPINE.

This innovative look into a moment of Freud's life takes place in 1909 when Freud made his only visit to America to deliver the Clark University lectures and introduce psychoanalysis to the U.S. His stay included a trip to Putnam Camp, the family retreat of American psychologist James Jackson Putnam with his companions Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi in tow. While there, Freud is in demand to see his coveted prize: a porcupine.

Directed by Mel.Cook and written by Michael Merino, the cast comprises of Ryan Bruce (Carl Jung), Jay Canova (Molly Putnam), Mason Joiner (James Putnam), Vatican Lokey (Sigmund Freud), Jen Pagan (Marian Putnam), Todd Schrenk (William James), and Ratty Scurvics (Sándor Ferenczi).

A proscenium theatre space does not set the scene for PORCUPINE. Instead, we are taken to Bywater Wonderland. In this historic private residence, the owner Stacy Hoover continues the home's tradition of filling it with grand gatherings and artistic explorations. The sprawling space is a fitting setting for PORCUPINE, taking up the mantle of Putnam Camp. The Victorian house and gardens, with touches of Wonderland whimsy, is a suitable setting for this already dreamlike experience.

Review: PORCUPINE at Bywater Wonderland
Vatican Lokey as Sigmund Freud and Ryan Bruce as Carl Jung
Photo by Eric Siemens

We begin inside the Putnam Camp as the Putnam family prepares for the arrival of Freud, Jung and Ferenczi. Their guests arrive early, and soon the audience is taken on an excursion filled with intellectual debates on the subconscious, Wagnerian sing-alongs, hunting for porcupines and the much-anticipated tetherball tournament. There is a significant shift in the evening as reality slowly turns dreamlike, leaving the question if the ethereal experience occurred at all.

The audience is always present and watching, feeling like they've become guests themselves for a vacation to Putnam Camp. In many ways, as an audience member, you feel the importance of glimpsing into what otherwise appears to be daily life for this group of psychonauts (much like when Lord Byron rented a lake house in the summer of 1816 and a night of telling ghost stories would lead to some of the greatest literary works ever created).

The interaction and unrehearsed intimacies of immersive theatre were ultimately a welcome treat for theatre enthusiasts who craved something different. The evening works much like a choose-your-own-adventure story. You could follow Freud and enjoy his impromptu stand-up show, or you could go off and follow the house's maid for an evening toying with the dark arts. Every character has their own story to tell, and the experience is delightfully zany no matter how you choose to enjoy it.

And that delight all boils down to the talent of the show's director and the cast. Mel.Cook brings together a remarkable ensemble of characters and uses their talents to the fullest extent. Vatican Lokey is a tour-de-force in Nola theatre and depicting Sigmund Freud outside his normal element is nothing beyond brilliant. This reviewer still cracks up, remembering his first experience of playing tetherball.

Whether you're looking for something new, or just sexually repressed, don't miss out on PORCUPINE. It's the best-kept secret right now in Nola theatre.

Covid protocol is that audience members are required to wear masks during all indoor scenes and may remove their masks during scenes set outdoors. If you do not have a mask, one will be provided.

PORCUPINE runs until June 5. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.

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