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Scharff, J.S. (2017). Animal by Clare Lizzimore, directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, World Premiere at Studio Theatre, Washington, DC, 30 September, 2015.. Cpl. Fam. Psychoanal., 7(1):128-136.

(2017). Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, 7(1):128-136

Dramatic Criticism

Animal by Clare Lizzimore, directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch, World Premiere at Studio Theatre, Washington, DC, 30 September, 2015.

Review by:
Discussed and Reviewed by Jill Savege Scharff, M.D.

In Animal, a six-character domestic drama, British playwright, Clare Lizzimore, takes us into the mind of a depressed woman protagonist, beginning with her couple relationship, and moving into her self-esteem issues, her family relationships, her memories, her fantasies, and her mental state. Animal provides us with what we expect from theatre: “perception of human character, perception of life itself” (D'Useau & Gow, 1945, p. 6). This play lets us see how the family is instantiated as an internal family in the mind of the individual and how that individual mind affects, and is affected by, others in her environment, including, in this play, a well-meaning psychiatrist as a real man and a transference object for a woman who is dealing with post-partum depression.

Freud used theatre to demonstrate his theory of the dynamic unconscious: the Oedipus complex (Hamlet, Macbeth, and Richard III), the Electra complex (Rosmersholm), and the impact of choice in matters of birth, sexuality, and death (The Merchant of Venice and King Lear). Freud's widespread impact on literature accounts for the awareness of unconscious motivation seen in contemporary theatre (Wilder, 1985). Freud “would have been uncomfortable with the role assigned to him by the historians of theatre” (Neuringer, 1992, p. 148). Nevertheless, modern theatre now acknowledges an “overwhelming indebtedness to the concepts of behaviour developed and systematized by the psychoanalytic movement, and most particularly by the genius of its founder, Sigmund Freud” (Sievers, 1970, p. 454).

My contemporary psychoanalytic perspective on theatre draws not only from classical Freudian ideas, but also from current concepts of the development of the self in relationship, and not only from an individual analytic point of view, but also from the vantage of family and culture. I want to look beyond the narrative of the play to include the impact of the play on the audience, just as a contemporary psychoanalyst uses countertransference to engage with and make meaning of the unconscious communication.

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