Gamson, who has battled depression herself, has a personal connection to the subject of her show. "For Freud, hysteria is a dysfunction of unfulfilled desire; I thought that was poetic. I thought I had made myself sick because my life didn't go the way I wanted," she says. Never one to back down from a challenge, Gamson created the work after a friend said she couldn't make a piece about Freud. She rose to the challenge, and the show was first performed in December 1999 at Highway's Performance Space in L.A.
During the first act, viewers see film clips from 1880 to 1920, a time when psychoanalysis and film were both developing. The second act looks at the years from 1980 to the present, when mental illness came to be recognized as a biochemical problem. One of the show's themes is a feminist slant on Freud's theories connecting repressed sexuality and women's mental-health problems.
The show has eleven performers who hail from different parts of the world. Along with spoken excerpts from German fairy tales and Freud's writings on hysteria, as well as singing, tango and flamenco, dancers perform movements based on the shapes of Sanskrit and Arabic letters.
Gamson hopes the show challenges the audience. "I want the audience to feel pleased that I make the assumption that they are intelligent and sensitive enough to understand complicated ideas about the human condition," she says. "They really will be stimulated visually and emotionally."