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Finger Mouth
Tricklock Company

Finger Mouth
Hannah Kauffman, Fernando Fresquez and Juli Hendren
In a striking instance of synchronicity, two plays dealing with the subject of hysteria and its treatment in the 19th century were recently running simultaneously in Albuquerque: The Waiting Room at Mother Road Theatre Company, in which hysteria is just one of several topics, and Finger Mouth by Tricklock Company, in which the treatment of hysteria is front and center.

Finger Mouth is a one-hour, one-act comédie très noire written collaboratively by Tricklock Company members and directed by Alex Knight. The French words might seem like an affectation, but here they're apropos because the whole show takes place in a Paris hospital and it's so dimly lit that sometimes we find ourselves in total blackness—very effective and just right for this story.

Which is, that our heroine Frannie, to escape ongoing sexual abuse by her mother's boyfriend, has thrown herself out a window in the castle where she lives&mdash"defenestration," the play calls it. I'm a sucker for a literate script, and this one had me at "defenestration". Fannie survives, and is committed to an asylum-hospital under the care of a doctor famous for treating hysteria. "Hysteria" in those days was a catch-all diagnosis specifically for women, since the word comes from the Greek for uterus. And, as in The Waiting Room, one way to "cure" it was surgical: a hysterectomy.

The hospital is named only obliquely in this play, and the doctor not at all, but with the help of a few hints in the script, you can figure out that the scene is the Salpetrière, the most famous hospital for the mentally ill in Paris (so called because it was previously a gunpowder factory, and saltpeter is one of the components of gunpowder). The doctor is Jean-Martin Charcot, among whose students were Freud and Tourette. Charcot was most likely nowhere near as crackpot, egomaniacal, and sadistic as depicted here, but that would make for a much less interesting play.

Finger Mouth (the title's meaning is obscure to me, and I think the show would benefit from renaming) reveals the goings-on inside the asylum, and it's not a pretty picture. What was then considered advanced medicine seems to us now cruel and unusual punishment. Somehow, the Tricklockers make it not just gruesome, but pretty funny as well.

Their innovative approach is to use a lot of shadow theater, with much of the story being portrayed on a screen lit from behind. Sometimes there are people behind the screen, sometimes cut-outs, sometimes both, and it's all very cleverly and adroitly done. It must take an awful lot of rehearsal, since it's counter to how one usually performs: to make something bigger, you move it away from the screen and the audience, and closer to the light source behind the screen. Alex Knight should be proud of how well this technique works, since he developed the lighting and set design, and Drew Morrison deserves credit for carrying it out.

There are only three actors, but a lot of characters. Hannah Kauffmann plays Frannie, Fernando Fresquez is The Doctor and a few others, and Juli Hendren is several different women, both patients and staff. Hannah kind of underplays her role, but that works because she's the still center around which the other two can whirl like tornados.

Juli is amazingly versatile, changing personae in the blink of an eye, and she's always great fun to watch. Fernando has to be seen to be believed. The master of the unplaceable accent and grotesque movement, he's a fearless performer, and one should never pass up the opportunity to see him on stage. Likewise, one should not pass up the opportunity to see this show whenever Tricklock revives it.

Finger Mouth, a play created by Tricklock Company members, was presented in November 2012 at the Tricklock Performance Space in Albuquerque. Info at tricklock.com.


Photo: Natasha Ribeiro

--Dean Yannias



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