‘The Wonderful World of Dissocia’ at Theater Alliance

If you like great acting and want to know what it must be like to be mentally ill and to suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder, go see The Wonderful World of Dissocia, directed by Colin Hovde and Nathaniel Mendez, who facilitate great acting.

Carlos Saldaña, Karina Hilleard, and Luke Ceislewicz. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Carlos Saldaña, Karina Hilleard, and Luke Ceislewicz. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Written by Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson, The Wonderful World of Dissocia was first produced at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2004. Neilson seems to be saying that being a little crazy is better than being over-medicated. He is also trying to show how hard it can be for friends and families of people with serious mental illness.

The play is often compared with Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. The main character, Lisa Jones (Karina Hilleard), has lost an hour of time while flying from New York to London.

Explains a watchmaker Victor, played with aplomb by Elliott Bales: “At the precise second you crossed the Greenwich Meridian, the clocks here went back exactly one hour . . .  Somehow in all that temporal confusion of that instant, the hour that you surrendered–the hour that was rightfully yours–went astray. Do you see? Your watch is not an hour slow, Lisa, you are.”

A humorous elevator scene is the next hint that things have gone a little strange. The characters are grouped together on a tarp, and they veer this way and that as the lift moves up, down, left and right. Hilleard is rightfully indignant at their odd behavior, which includes loud, meaningless utterances, but gamely goes along for the ride.

When she lands in Dissocia, she is greeted by two “insecurity” guards (Carlos Saldaña and Luke Cieslewicz, both hilarious). The guards have performance anxiety about their job (they have to tell her she won’t be allowed in if she’s got feathers, for example), but Hilleard’s Lisa is empathetic about their debilitating self-doubt as they second-guess themselves endlessly using all sorts of wack-a-doo Britishisms. She still seems right as rain.

They summon the Oathtaker (Dave Gamble) who inducts her into the violent land of Dissocia and tells her about the dangerous Black Dog King and the missing Queen Sarah. She is captured by a Goat (the delightful Adi Stein) but is rescued from an absolutely harrowing turn of events by a surrogate victim who takes her on a bombing mission.

Lisa loses her mind on the bombing mission. She can see children run screaming from the blast, but soon she is distracted by how the scorched earth resembles cats and rhinos in silhouette! Now that’s dissociating. But Hilleard’s Lisa is still acting completely normal. Lisa Hodsoll turns in a memorable performance as Jane.

Next, a polar bear (Ben Chang) sings to her in a welcome tonic. “Life’s full of clatter, but none of it matters/Only who will hold your paw when you die?”

 David Gamble, Elliott Bales, KyoSin Kang, Karina Hilleard, Carolyn Kashner, Adi Stein, Ben Chang, and Luke Ceislewicz. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

David Gamble, Elliott Bales, KyoSin Kang, Karina Hilleard, Carolyn Kashner, Adi Stein, Ben Chang, and Luke Ceislewicz. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Finally Lisa Jones makes it to the lost property office, where Britney (Carolyn Kashner) imperiously presides over people who have lost the Argument (Bales) and their Inhibitions (Saldaña). Puns abound. Chang, dressed as a hot dog, plays incidental music on the violin as Britney abuses her lackey, Biffer (Stein), and KyoSin Kang fights to the death in slow-motion violence against an invisible attacker. Her movements capture the central message of the play.

Contrast Act 2, which takes place in an antiseptic psychiatric ward, with nurses delivering medication on precise schedules. Lisa, wan and tired, is visited by her sister, Dot (Hodsoll) and her partner (Saldaña), who show their disaffection.

The technical prowess of the production is impressive. There are 16 short scenes punctuated by the switching on of the fluorescent lights in Lisa’s room, and every time they come on, she is in a different position or setting, her condition improving. It is like time-lapse photography and was extremely well done by actors and technical crew alike, as was a scene in Act 1 in which Lisa samples various parts of her mind by stepping to different parts of the stage. When she moves, the lights by John Burkland, sound co-designed by Matthew M. Neilson and Christopher Baine and Neilson’s original music help to to suit the mood. Costume design by Collin Ranney, who also designed the set, was especially good for the Goat, who had purple striped socks and boots with turned-down ankles that resembled hooves.

The Wonderful World of Dissocia is filled with wonderful performances, lots of heart, and stunning design, and is a journey you should not miss.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with one intermission.

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The Wonderful World of Dissocia plays through June 28, 2014 at The Anacostia Playhouse-202- Shannon Place. SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.


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