How close can you ever get to lunacy? And how much would you really feel about it? What is the borderline between madness and normal and what is the ultimate price to pay to stay normal? These are the questions you might ask yourself after seeing Sydney Theatre Company’s brand new Face to Face directed by the young and charismatic Simon Stone, who also gave a very candid but entertaining opening speech on the evening of August 7th. The audience might have felt flattered, including me at the announcement that what they were going to see was actually the very first of the first world premiere of the show, adapted from a 1976 film by Ingmar Bergman and led by the leading lady, NZ actress Kerry Fox who played Jenny.
Jenny is a successful psychiatrist. She looks fine, family, career and everything, but only on the surface. The scenes change abruptly, almost like a snapping of finger, one scene retreats and another broke in. We see Jenny whirlwinds through psychiatrist’ ward, household nagging, forensic party and unethical flirting, but she always does the right thing. It was as if in a world of crazy, sad and illusionary people, Jenny is the only one who maintained some degree of sanity, though with some efforts.
However, as the craziness climaxes, things slowly spiral out of control, Jenny collapses into herself and has a nervous break-down. Although being brought back from a failed attempt of suicide, she can’t escape her own dreams and illusionary visions. Hidden stories, inter fears, deep desires, past regrets…all these sub-consciousness came back to haunt her and act out live in her self-created “lunatic ward”. Another Jenny or her true self is thus revealed. That is when audience is given the opportunity to walk into Jenny’s internal psychiatric world and witness the woman’s internal struggling.
It is worth noting that, the play is not intended just to tell a story about a mad woman, but is trying to resonate with the audience something universal of human being. Jenny’s case is not incidental. The last scenes of the revelation confront the audience, even make them a little uncomfortable, because it was as if a voice was murmuring to them, “could that be you?” The excruciating Jenny becomes a mirror that images the deepest fears of common people. At one point, it suddenly dawns to Jenny that this Jenny “became normal” only because she is conscious that in this way everything could be fine and she insists she is fine. I think at this moment the audience might be asking themselves the question, “if I have acted normal in order to look normal to this world and where the true self has gone.” Everybody has got some Jenny inside of him or herself. Yet, as everybody is aware, on the surface, it all looks good, for the most part.
Lastly, the role Thomas seems misplaced at first impression. A young handsome bachelor who takes a good doze of interest in the lunatic woman and who brings her back from a suicide attempt. Jenny eventually broke out, “what do you want from me?” (I think the audience must be asking the same question.) However, to the end of the play, the answer is not known. I think Thomas represents something that keeps Jenny in this world and something she can hold onto in personal and mental crisis. This role seems to carry more symbolic meaning than being a real person. And such experience is well known to each of us: if there is a Jenny, there must be a Thomas somewhere waiting to rescue her out of her misery.
The play explores the borderline between normal and lunacy. This may as well be an affirmation that everybody is a lunatic, in some way. And those who look normal may not be what it seems. At deeper level, or at psychiatric level, one must confront the true self face to face. And there is no other way.