I read David Foster Wallace’s short story The Depressed Person soon after it was published in Harper’s Magazine in 1998. Capturing the insular circularity of chronic depression, it stayed with me in a series of uncomfortable ways, raising a series of questions about empathy (or the lack of it) in the third-person narrative of depression that the single narrator presents. Daniel Veronese premiered this version of the story in  2019 with the late María Onetto in the role of a woman trying to manage her depression through a mixture of medication, therapy and a support group of friends. Amparo Noguera takes on the role in this Chilean-Argentine co-production, first seen in 2022.

Noguera opens the piece in confessional form — only form and content appear to be at odds for her gestural language and tone are pleading, desperate, anxious and irritable, and yet she appears to be talking, supposedly, about someone else. For the “depressed person” of the play’s title that she speaks of is always in the third person. Dressed in black slacks and a grey-olive green shirt, she looks neat and assured. But looks can be deceiving, for the slick attire masks anxiety and discontent. Noguera looks the audience in the eye — hair scraped back in a neat ponytail — as she narrates a tale where all have failed “the depressed person”: parents, expensive lawyers, mediators, a therapist who takes her own life having promised to work with the depressed person on solutions, and the support group of friends that she increasingly turns to, night after night, after the therapist’s suicide.

The language makes no concession to the audience: it is intense, technical and precise: “Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil, Wellbutrin, Elavil, Metrazol in combination with unilateral ECT (during a two-week voluntary in-patient course of treatment at a regional Mood Disorders clinic), Parnate both with and without lithium salts, Nardil, both with and without Xanax. None had delivered any significant relief from the pain and feelings of emotional isolation that rendered the depressed person’s every waking hour an indescribable hell on earth.”. The depressed person has an endogenous depression that dominates all parts of her life. There is no discussion of an existence beyond depression: no work life, no home life, no friends beyond the support group. Family is trauma not joy. Depression is all engulfing and overwhelming. Its cause, identified quickly, lies in her parents’ divorce: acrimonious, bitter and handled through lawyers where everything was fought over — who is paying for braces, for boarding school, for summer camps. Noguera returns to this event again and again, reliving the trauma, and the frustrations with the conflict resolution expert Walter D. (“Walt”) DeLasandro Jr. who charges $150 dollars an hour for a service she feels he never delivered. Her therapist too, with whom she invests over $1080 a month, ultimately abandons her. Price and value are repeatedly conflated as frustration overwhelms the depressed person.

Noguera wrings her hands and scratches her shoulder. She twitches and adjusts her blouse; she returns again and again to her warring parents, Walt and her therapist. Even when she sits on the chair to move closer to the  audience, there is no rest or sense of moving forward. She may be seated but the focus is always on herself — albeit a self she feels disassociated from because that self is always referred to in the third person.

It’s hard to like this character but it is clear she is suffering, desperately and acutely. She cannot empathise with a terminally ill friend that she increasingly leans on following the death of her therapist. Noguera looks bemused – her wide mouth opening in shock when her friend tells her truths she is not capable of processing. The demeanour may not be alarming but the combination of words, gesture and tone that Noguera articulates — the darting eyes, the fixed glare, the restless pacing and excessive repetition — are. Veronese presents a technical expertise in solipsism and narcissism, as precise as the depressed woman’s technical language. Noguera’s depressed person cannot understand an experience outside her own: the lack of empathy is terrifying and painful to watch. This self-absorbed protagonist is desperately ill, and that condition has devastating consequences on herself and others.

The staging is economical: a table stage right, a chair, a cup of tea that is never full enough and never able to quench her thirst. Prior to Noguera taking the stage, credits appear on the screen at the back of the stage where the subtitles are projected. The projection reads “Experiment 1” but there is only one experiment here, no progression to another stage, nothing beyond the experience presented over the show’s hour-long duration. María Onetto, the actress who created the role in Veronese’s first outing of the production in 2019, suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2023. Her ghost hovers over Veronese’s production — she performed at the same Mori Arauco theatre where I saw the piece in 2024 as part of Teatro a Mil four years ago. The spectre of David Foster Wallace, who killed himself a decade after writing the text, is also eerily present. This staging is haunted by multiple ghosts that go well beyond those of the narrator.

Veronese’s production is cool, sterile and abrasive. There is no humour here, no levity – just insistent repetition, an endless circularity and an extraordinary performance from Noguera as the narcissistic depressed person of the play’s title.

La persona deprimida (The Depressed Person) directed by Daniel Veronese plays at Santiago a Mil from 11 to 21 January at Auditorio Municipalidad de Lo Espejo and Teatro Mori Parque Arauco.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Maria Delgado.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.