Psychonautics and ‘Four Women at the Edge of the Desert’

The most famous psychonauts, or explorers of the mind/body/soul and its consciousness, construction, and sensation-based experience, have, like Timothy Leary, used psychoactives to launch their rockets into the sensate sphere where consciousness becomes something malleable and non-narrative. Others use psychoanalysis, dreamwork, or spiritual practices, and some use theater as a projection of reality, a “seeing place” that can be used not unlike an external/communicated version of the mind’s private “theater of the future” (Piaget) in which an individual projects the outcome of his or her actions inside the mind in order to determine and weigh the potential narrative of implications for in-the-moment action.

As I have insisted (ad nauseum, my apologies to those in direct contact with me), this theatrical projection of reality for “psychonautic” purposes is not the only “use” for theater, though it is perhaps the most popular in Modern Western cinema, and it can be very useful, when it is not simply a stylistic simulacra of actual psychological/cognitive investigation. Matthew Stephen Smith’s new play takes theater as a projection of consciousness and the human mind in the direction of his patron saint for the project, Ingmar Bergman. See, Ingmar Bergman agreed with Carl Jung (who along with Jean Piaget was the strongest influence on Timothy Leary) and a whole host of psychologists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers of the mind, that there is a “break” (sort of like the voice between modal voice and falsetto) where the mind takes a step beyond a simplistic, narrative understanding of the self and into a more complex consciousness. This step is small, but supposedly very few people actually complete it, it’s the step into realization that the self is not the center of the universe and that the self is going to die. Actual recognition and absorption of this, the feeling and sensation of not being the center of conception of reality, the recognition of other consciousnesses, chaos, and of death, is the core conflict in Four Women at the Edge of the Desert, and the catalyst for actions both disturbing and recognizable. Each character in the piece is struggling with this step in her own way, and each resolves the step, or decides not to make it at all, in her own way. The use of this step-taking “event” in human consciousness makes the play seem, on the surface, to be a fairly straightforward psychological family drama albeit with an abnormally tight thematic structure. Yet, Matthew has done something additionally psychonautic here, condensing the play into one actor, unifying the conflict of the play with a subjective struggle, and with an attempt to ‘trigger’ (Jung and Leary) this step in the minds of the audience.

This formal framework for the piece is the most interesting to me, but I suspect that many will be caught up in the story and not get stuck in all of this analytical parlay:
Four Women at the Edge of the Desert‘s basic premise is that a small family of four women (two sisters, their mother, and the partner of one of the sisters) are visiting the Anza Borrego Desert, staying in the former house of deceased grandparents on the request of the youngest daughter, who has recently been released from the hospital. Needless to say, madness ensues, video splashes the wall, and Matthew himself performs the four women with his dance-based fluidity and classical acting chops. Come and tell us what you think beginning this Friday with some open workshop showings:

Four Women at the Edge of the Desert

Written and Performed by Matthew Stephen Smith
Directed by Esther Neff
Music and Sound by Brian McCorkle

Friday, October 22 at 8pm
Saturday, October 23 at 8pm
Sunday, October 24 at 4pm

603 Bergen St. Ste 103 (between Carlton Ave & Vanderbilt Ave)



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