4.48 Psychosis

Nothing can be more terrifying than the disintegration of a human mind. And as frightening a view as some of Sarah Kane's plays come to communicating that state, none come closer than her final work. A virtual monologue, it presumably places us inside Kane's own crumbling, feverishly tortured mind even as we watch her alter ego in the final days-or is it weeks? hours? minutes?--of her unhappy life.

If it weren't so achingly raw and so prescient of the British playwright's own fate-suicide at age 28--this valedictory work might be called "Confessions of a Madwoman." Director Jeremy Gable and star Jessica Topliff, however, refuse to sugarcoat any facet about living out the remainder of one's brief life in an asylum-nor do they succumb to the temptation of creating a lurid horror show. The figure in the play's title is the self-appointed hour of Kane's demise: "At 4:48," Topliff's nameless character tells us, "when desperation visits, I shall hang myself."

Being a writer, Kane documented her condition. Topliff shows that the process, ever-frantic scribbling in a notebook, can only avert the inevitable for so long. Kane sees through her doctors' attempts to humor her. Her rage-toward the lover who spurned her, toward her parents, toward God-cannot be quantified or muted. A cocktail of psychotropic drugs cannot dull her pain. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about Kane's final opus is how clearly it communicates the desperation, anger, fear, despondency, and utter hopelessness of someone losing his or her mind, for whom suicide is the only solution. To contemplate how one so creative could be so swallowed up is devastatingly sad. Topliff alternates bursts of coherence with red-faced rages, as Kane's mounting insanity boils over in a torrent of words, thoughts, and feelings. To watch the actor proclaim, "I have no desire for death; no suicide ever had," while using her shoelaces to hang herself, is to feel empathy for a lost soul-especially when that soul's final words are, "Watch me vanish...."

Presented by and at Hunger Artists Theater Company, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Feb. 24-Mar. 19. (714) 680-6803.