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Analyze this: 'The Talking Cure's' faults and strengths

COUNTERPUNCH

April 26, 2004|Dimitra Arlys | Dimitra Arlys is an actress living in Los Angeles.

It never ceases to amaze me how few critics know where to fault a production when it doesn't work. Case in point: Rob Kendt's review of "The Talking Cure," which he didn't like, found boring and held the script responsible ("Talk About Mind Games," April 16).

It doesn't occur to him that he may be unable to appreciate the subtleties and textures in Christopher Hampton's script -- not the lines, but between them; not what is said, but what is not said -- and the emotions expressed silently between the actors. Not to mention his lack of appreciation for the dynamics between the analyst and patient -- the transformative power that exists between them, especially when the patient is a woman.

Neither Carl Jung nor Sigmund Freud is the central character of this play; Sabina Spielrein is.

She is the catalyst whose presence in their lives becomes the basis of the alchemical transformations that occur in these two powerful men. This dynamic enormously influenced their early exploration of a totally new process that each in his own way was inventing -- and which inevitably led to the split between them.

That is the core of this play -- a fact that bypassed Kendt completely. He dismissed the powerful impact this particular woman's presence had on them personally and professionally, which influenced the course psychoanalysis took and the resulting difference we presently recognize between Freudian and Jungian analysis.

He also dismissed the actress, Abby Brammell, and her stunning portrayal of Sabina, which instigates the tensions and upheavals, emotionally and otherwise, necessary for this play to work.

The fault in this production is not in the script, as Kendt has concluded. The fault is in Gordon Davidson's interpretation and direction of the script -- and in the casting.

Davidson is without question a brilliant producer whose contribution to the American theater is carved in stone. He is not, however, the best director for this play, with its quicksilver scene changes and split-second transitions that should flow effortlessly from one to another.

Instead, the scene changes and transitions are clumsy, labored, unimaginative, intrusive and disruptive, requiring the unfortunately continuous interruption of a team of men entering from offstage and through the aisles, carrying heavy, wooden pieces of furniture, moving them around, lifting them up, setting them down, then exiting again.

This is counterproductive in the extreme to what "The Talking Cure" requires and cannot help but disrupt, if not outright kill, the concentration and attention of the audience -- to say nothing of the actors.

Meanwhile, Sam Robards is seriously miscast as Jung (at least Kendt got that right). His performance is a one-dimensional, superficial, cold, stiff presentation of a man who was anything but! Unless one has read the works of Jung, one would never know the profound sensitivity, passion or depth of mind and soul that Jung had -- the absence of which strongly contributes to the play not working.

Harris Yulin, an excellent actor, is capable of being perfect as Freud, had he been better directed. Henri Lubatti is indeed excellent and, as Kendt noted, is one of the highlights of the production. But to praise Brammell only in her first several scenes and then dismiss the rest of her performance is extremely unfair; she was wonderful throughout. Given the difficulties of projecting the intense passion and sexual desire she feels for Jung as portrayed in Robards' emotionally shut-down performance, it is remarkable she was as good as she was.

Critics often fault the actors and/or the script when they don't like a play. They seldom have enough insight or appreciation of the profoundly collaborative process that determines the production and performances.

In this instance, the problems and obstacles presently on view at the Mark Taper Forum could have been avoided if the play had been directed differently. They are not inherent faults in Hampton's concept or writing.

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