Houston’s cutting-edge Catastrophic Theatre tentatively returns to live performance
November 15, 2021./ Updated: November 16, 2021, 9:28 am Houston Chronicle Preview
Catastrophic Theatres, reliably one of Houston’s homes for avant-garde and experimental performances, will finally be hosting indoor shows once again. As their inaugural offering, they’ve picked Sarah Kane’s “4.48 Psychosis,” opening Nov. 19.
“It is exhilarating, I have to say,” says operations manager Marianthe Perce. “We’re very thrilled about. We had a bigger production that we were going to use, but we realized that we needed to ease on into things.”
Kane blazed a too-brief trail through theater in the 1990s. With her work known as “theater extreme,” she was known for her controversial subjects and experimental scripts that incorporated a high degree of sex and violence. A great deal of the staging is left up to the performers, adding to the formless realism of her work. “4.48 Psychosis” is generally seen as an expression of her clinical depression, with the title coming from an hour that Kane often woke up distraught. Comprised of twenty-four segments that can be presented in any order, it’s short, but not for the faint of heart.
Perce describes the production as a “one and half actor” show, with T. Lavois Thiebaud as the lead. Putting together a team of artists — Afsaneh Aayani (set design), Hudson Davis (lighting), James Templeton (video and sound), Macy Lyne (costumes), Tabitha Bounds (props) — is something Perce has missed.
“I’ve missed the collaborative nature of theater,” says Perce. “The great thing about “4.48” is that it’s still highly collaborative, but on a much smaller scale. We have video elements and more. It fits the spirit of the time perfectly.”
Because the MATCH building is a state-owned space, Catastrophic will not be allowed to check vaccine passports at the door. However, they are requiring masks for the duration of the performance. Concessions will also not be allowed so that masking may continue uninhibited. All members of the company have been vaccinated, and MATCH has installed ultraviolet filters for patron safety. High contact areas are cleaned regularly.
That said, Perce recognizes that some fans of Catastrophic might still be reluctant to attend an indoor performance. She herself admits she hasn’t been to a movie theater or indoor play in nearly two years. Because of that, Catastrophic is modifying subscriber packages so that members can still choose to attend various outdoor events. These will include movie nights, concerts, and performances, such as recent stagings done at The Orange Show. However, Perce sees “4.48” as Catastrophic’s belated return to usual operations.
“We’ve had people asking us, ‘Everyone else is back, why aren’t you?’,’’ she says. “We wanted to be cautious. Luckily, I think most of our patrons are the kind of people who will get vaccinated, and we should be safe barring another variant.”
The choice to return with such a play like “4.48” was not made by accident. Perce admits that Catastrophic had been planning to do it for some time, but that now seemed like the perfect opportunity. Its description of emotional distress and loneliness is something that everyone has had to learn to deal with since March of last year.
“There comes a time we have to face our demons and come out of our shells,” says Perce. “This show addresses what it’s like to be isolated. When every other company is doing typical holiday fare, we want to be showing the other side. It can be cathartic. We want to give free rein to the internal struggles that people go through.”
Jef Rouner is a Houston-based writer.