The Wilma Theater Presents Johnson's HYSTERIA Previewing 5/13

By: Apr. 16, 2009
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The Wilma Theater will bring its 30th Anniversary Season to a spirited finish with the East Coast Premiere of Hysteria, written by Terry Johnson and directed by the Wilma's co-Artistic Director Jiri Zizka. Winner of London's prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, and hailed by The New York Times as "an exuberant surprise... as unexpectedly resonant as a crazy sonnet," Hysteria is based on a stunning, historical meeting between two of the world's greatest and most eccentric men - Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dalí.

Set in London in 1938, Hysteria springs from Freud's fanciful mind as he juggles unexpected visits to his home by the famous surrealist painter Dalí and a mysterious young woman named Jessica who can't seem to keep her clothes on. The tables are turned as Freud soon finds himself the subject of Jessica's own bizarre form of psychoanalysis while Dalí's surreal imagery creeps into his dreams and consciousness. Called "an utterly hilarious and brilliant show" by The Sunday Times of London, Hysteria is full of mistaken identities, dazzling surprises, and sheer Freudian slips.

Hysteria at the Wilma begins previews on May 13, opens on May 20, and closes on June 14, 2009. Tickets start at $39 and are available at the Wilma Box Office by calling (215) 546-7824, visiting 265 S. Broad Street, or online at

The Wilma's production stars Alvin Epstein as Sigmund Freud. Epstein is a former Artistic Director of the Guthrie Theater and Associate Director of Yale Repertory Theatre, which he helped found with Robert Brustein. His more than twenty Broadway and off-Broadway productions include his debut with Marcel Marceau (on Marceau's first-ever American tour), the Fool in Orson Welles' King Lear (acting opposite Welles), Lucky in the American premiere of Waiting for Godot, and Clov in the American premiere of Endgame.

In the role of Salvador Dalí is Matthew Floyd Miller whose Broadway credits include Not About Nightingales and Invention of Love and Off-Broadway credits include The Seagull, Of Mice and Men, and Letters from Cuba, in addition to numerous regional theater credits. Abraham Yahuda is played by New York actor Merwin Goldsmith whose Broadway credits include Ain't Broadway Grand, Me and My Girl, Grand Hotel, and Dirty Linen, among many others. Jessica is played by Philadelphia actress Mary McCool, who was seen at the Wilma in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Big Love, and most recently in Tom Stoppard's Rock ‘n' Roll.

The supporting ensemble features Robert Ian Cutler, Will Harrell, Matteo LeCompte, Miranda Libkin, Kristen O'Rourke, Christine Perrotta, TEd Powell, Molly Simpson, and Megan Slater.

The design team consists of Set Designer Mimi Lien whose work has been seen at the Wilma in Outrage (Barrymore Award for Outstanding Set Design), Cloud 9, A Number, and the Barrymore-nominated The Life of Galileo and Eurydice. Lighting Designer Jerold R. Forsyth, Costume Designer Janus Stefanowicz, and Sound Designer Nick Rye have worked with Zizka on numerous Wilma productions.

Terry Johnson was first inspired to write Hysteria after reading Jeffrey Masson's book, The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory. He then visited the Freud Museum in London, which was the home of Freud and his family after they escaped Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938. "Freud's son meticulously re-created Freud's Vienna study... and it is a strange and powerful room to walk into," says Johnson. "I walked into the study, and instantly knew where the play would be set; and what its parameters were."

Jiri Zizka says, "I've read all of Terry's published plays and wanted to direct one of his plays for years. When the rights to Hysteria became available, I was overjoyed. It is exactly the kind of intellectual, effervescent comedy with dark twists that I love. Its comic engine is perfectly constructed, yet it leaves enough room for virtuoso acting and visual exuberance."

The Real Meeting of Freud and Dalí
Dalí had gone to Vienna three times with the intention of visiting Freud. Each time, Freud was either away or ill. Freud left Vienna for London on June 4, 1938, escaping ahead of the Nazis, who had outlawed both psychoanalysis and Freud's writings. Once he and his family crossed the Rhine, Freud exclaimed "Now we are free!" Freud had many visitors in London, including Virginia and Leonard Woolf (his English publisher), author H. G. Wells, and artist Salvador Dalí, who visited on July 19. According to his autobiography, Dalí was in a Paris restaurant when he saw in a newspaper that Freud had escaped Vienna, and decided, looking at the photo, that Freud's brain "was like a snail" - an image that became closely connected with the artist's later encounter with Freud.

Terry Johnson's work has been performed all over Great Britain and worldwide. He is the recipient of nine major British Theatre awards including the Olivier Award Best Comedy 1994 and 1999, Playwright of the Year 1995, Critics Circle Best New Play 1995, two Evening Standard Theatre Awards, and Writers Guild Best Play 1995 and 1996, among others. Johnson has written and directed television drama that has been broadcast worldwide, most recently Not Only But Always for Channel Four, which won five International Award nominations. His film Way Upstream was chosen for the London Film Festival, and the film version of his play Insignificance was the official British Entry at the Cannes Film Festival in 1985.

In recent years he has had eight productions running in London's West End: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest with Christian Slater, Hitchcock Blonde, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, The Graduate with Kathleen Turner, Dead Funny, Hysteria, Elton John's Glasses and The Memory of Water. He has twice worked with Steppenwolf Theatre directing John Malkovich in The Libertine, which was nominated for five Jeff Awards, including Best Production, and Lost Land, both plays by Stephen Jeffries. He is also Literary Associate at the Royal Court Theatre.

Jiri Zizka was born in Prague where he studied at the Charles IV University. After having emigrated to the United States, he collaborated on many films, including a feature film Largo Desolato, based on a play by Czech president Vaclav Havel, adapted by Tom Stoppard, starring Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham. He also wrote and directed Inquest of Love, a film nominated for Emmy and Golden Eagle Awards. In theater, Zizka became the co-Artistic Director of the Wilma in 1979, where he has directed over 70 productions, including Orwell's 1984, which he subsequently directed at the Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. and off-Broadway, Temptation (off-Broadway), The Ruling Class, Indiscretions, Love and Anger, The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Tin Pan Alley Rag, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Zizka has also collaborated with Tom Stoppard and directed his Arcadia, On the Razzle, Indian Ink, Night and Day and Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, a co-production of The Wilma Theater and The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center, starring the Tony-winner Richard Easton and David Strathairn (Oscar Nominee for Good Night, and Good Luck).

Symposium Series
The Metamorphoses of Sigmund: Freud and His Afterlives
Monday, June 1 at 7:30pm
Free for subscribers and Hysteria ticket holders; otherwise $10

Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dalí's historic meeting brought together two of the most influential and dynamic minds of the early 20th century. This symposium will feature several noted panelists who will explore and examine the state of the contemporary legacies of Freud and Dalí and how their work has lived on in medicine, psychology, art, and popular culture. Panelists include: Dr. Salman Akhtar of the Jefferson Medical College, Mark Edmundson (The Death of Sigmund Freud: Fascism, Psycho-analysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism), Ellen Handler Spitz (Image and Insight: Essays in Psychoanalysis and the Arts), and Professor Jonathan Wallis of the Moore College of Art and Design.


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