Emma’s Nose

(La Boite)


Ven I vent to La Boite to see Emma’s Nose I vas completely in the darkness as to vot dis play vas to be all about. Ven I left the theatre vun hour unt forty minutes later I vas vundering if vot I had just vitnessed vas a masterful sneeze of post-post-modern fluid-form (or formless fluid) drama, or simply a self-indulgent, snotty Freudian sniffle.

To appreciate the conclusion reached some history is necessary. In essence Emma’s Nose concerns itself with the professional and personal relationship between the Freud (Sigmund 1856–1939), and Fliess (Dr Wilhelm 1858-1928) and their diagnosis and treatment of Freud’s patient Emma Eckstein.

My immediate post-performance question was, “Who in psychoanalytical hell was Fliess?” Near the end of the evening author Paul Livingston’s alter ego Flacco, playing Hitchcockian voice-over bits, informs the somewhat stunned, and I suspect divided full house that while Freud went on to fame, Fliess just went on… or words to that effect.

Fliess does not feature in any Biographical Encyclopedia located and appears on the www essentially in relation to Freud’s letters to him in the period 1887-1902. The play draws on this correspondence which began early in Freud’s medical career. He graduated from the University of Vienna 1882, practised initially in neurology but during further study in Paris in 1883-85 shifted his interest to psychopathology, and the rest as they say …

But the forgotten Fliess features significantly in the beginnings of the rest. At the time the correspondence began, Fliess was ein Berliner otolayrngologist (read ear, nose and throat specialist) who nurtured the notion that the roots of sexual dysfunction were masturbation, coitus interruptus and condoms. For brevity I will now refer to these as the awesome threesome. His theory proposed that indulgence in, or use of the awesome threesome in sexual life set in train a process which damaged the nervous system and dislocated certain “genital spots” in the body, with the hottest of these hot spots located yes!! in the schnoz!! In turn the genital spots in the nose passed their bad blood to other organs and therein lay the diagnosable causes of aliments acute or chronic, wherever located.

Fliess was also enamoured of peculiar notions of bisexuality related to psychic periodicity – but if you wish to follow this aspect from the rapid fire dialogue of the play, go armed with a calculator. And it may have been Fliess who introduced Freud to the therapeutic benefits and other perception-altering advantages of cocaine.

Freud, it would seem bought the Fliess’ proboscis theory Mrs Palmer, tactical withdrawal and the adverse effects of the average propholactic of the day and all, much to the ultimate discomfort and disfigurement of Ms. Emma Eckstein.

Emma is recorded as having consulted Freud in 1895 suffering stomach ailments and menstrual problems. By then Freud had been regularly referring patients to Fliess for corrective nasal surgery to cure bodily disorders originating from the awesome threesome. Freud’s diagnosis traced Emma’s problems to masturbation with resultant nasal disruption causing the problems in her stomach and uterus. He sent for Fliess to operate.

The prelude to, performance and consequences of the surgery provide the plot-line of the play. In the pre-action stillness Greg Clarke’s design, with its reflective pools, couch-train on its bridged track with a terminus somewhere inside an extra-outsized proboscis (complete with nostril access) suggested we might be in for an evening of surprises and contradictions.

From the moment the intellectual absurdity of the psycho-physical consequences of the awesome threesome begins to explode, the design provided a wonderfully symbolic forum for the frenetic insanity of the antics of Freud (Jonathan Turner) and Fliess (Eugene Gilfedder). The still pool is potently narcissistic and when disturbed by either of these eclectic, mutually-masturbating theorists, conveys their belief in their ability to walk on the waters of psychopathology in their treatment of the hapless Emma (Kylie Morris).

The production and performances carry the play, the essence and essentials of which do not require the time allotted. The play is structured as a series of Goon-like discourses and suggests intercourses between the great pretenders. But the structure and the slick and sometimes incisively funny dialogue, plateaus early, doesn’t peak and never lets us feel for the victim of their snake-oil ego driven psycho-pedantry.

It did not surprise me to find that other letters of Freud are reportedly locked away in the Library of Congress until the end of the 22nd Century.

Is it a sneeze or a sniffle? Under Mark Bromilow’s direction, which optimises the design, Emma’s Nose is a play for players and Gilfedder and Turner, ably assisted by the often masked and muffled Kylie Morris, save Livingston’s play from its essentially shallow and repetitive self with sharply timed performances and the energy output of sneezes exploding from a couple of hyperactive snort freaks.

— Ron Finney
(Performance seen: Thu 21st February 2002)