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A CurtainUp Review

The Talking Cure
By Laura Hitchcock

"It was a blow when I discovered you'd chosen his side," says Dr. Carl Jung to his former lover and patient Sabina Spielrein. He's speaking of his mentor, Dr. Sigmund Freud, whose groundbreaking theories of psychoanalysis ("the talking cure") and human sexuality opened the door to the study of the unconscious. Playwright Christopher Hampton seems to have chosen Freud's side, too, in his massive struggle with the explorations and conflicts of these two titans and the catalytic role played by their youthful patient Sabina, who later became one of the first women psychoanalysts.

The play begins when Jung, the stiff pompous son of a country pastor, is confronted by the beautiful 18-year-old Sabina, a masochistic hysteric. Jung, testing Freud's new talking cure theory, cures her. He is torn between his love for Sabina and his need for his wife Emma, who regularly produces babies and whose money supports him in his work. As described by Jung Emma is "the foundation of my house"and his mistress" the perfume in the air."

Hampton's sure gift for character is particularly impressive in drawing Emma, not as a wimp but as a woman who knows exactly what she's getting into and in the brilliantly perceptive and sensitive Sabina. He also depicts a strong Freud who goes from seeing Jung as his professional son to alarm at the young doctor's metaphysical theories and concern that they will destroy the already tenuous credibility of their new field.

It's in conveying the spiritual quality of Jung that Hampton falls short. Jung became deeply interested in the archetypal symbols that appear in religions, myths and dreams often identically in every corner of the world and believed that being cut off from acceptance of The Collective Unconscious that all men share resulted in what he called alienation. Although the play is set in the period before he developed his major theories, the paucity of Jung's spiritual dimension diminishes it. It becomes a story about an affair between a married doctor and his teen-age patient, overshadowed by the Oedipal and professional conflict between Freud and Jung.

That fine actor Sam Robards presents Jung as an upright authority figure and catches his passion and enthusiasm but without the words to say it, there's only so much he can do. The closest Hampton comes to a mission statement for Jung is in the final act when Jung says, "I don't just want to open the door and show the patient his illness, squatting there like a toad. I want to find a way to help the patient reinvent himself, to send him off on a journey, at the end of which is waiting the person he was always intended to be." It doesn't help that neither Freud nor Sabina share his vision.-- with Freud grumbling "What good can we do if our aim is simply to replace one delusion with another?"

We can be very grateful, however, for what we have in Hampton's depth, structure and wit. He enlivens the intellectual struggles between Freud and Jung with the passionate love scenes between Sabina and Jung and the manic antics of Freud and Jung's favorite patient, former analyst Otto Gross who, to say the least, doesn't believe in monogamy, declaring "for a neurotic like myself, I can't imagine a more stressful concept."

Supporting Robards are Abby Brammell in a riveting debut performance as Sabina, Harris Yulin as a shaggy authoritative Freud, Sue Cremin who brings a delicate warmth and strength to Emma and a sparkling turn by Henri Lubatti as Otto Gross. Karl Fredrik Lundeberg composed haunting original music. Peter Wexler's settings and projected images are incredibly inventive, allowing the play to have the sweep and flow that expands the vision of director Gordon Davidson who has created a vivid absorbing world, crackling with the fascination of the life of the mind.

For our London critic's take on the play (different production) go here
LINKS to Curtain Up reviews of other Christopher Hampton plays
Tales From Hollywood
Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Playwright: Christopher Hampton
Director: Gordon Davidson
Cast: Abby Brammell (Sabina Spielrein), Sam Robards (Carl Jung), Sue Cremin (Emma Jung), Harris Yulin (Sigmund Freud), Henri Lubatti (Otto Gross), Taylor Daubens (Agathe Jung), Shiva Rose McDermott (Nurse), Libby West (Nurse), P. J. Marino (Orderly), John Hanson (Orderly), Bruce Katzman (SS Officer), Emily Rose Morris (Russian Girl/Gret Jung)
Settings and Projected Images: Peter Wexler
Lighting Design: Paulie Jenkins
Costume Design: Durinda Wood
Sound Design: Philip G. Allen
Fight Director: Steve Rankin
Wigs and Hair Design: Carol F. Doran
Original Music: Karl Fredrik Lundeberg
Running Time: Two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission
Running Dates: April 15-May 23, 2004 (American Premiere)
Where: The Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, phone: (213) 680-4017
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.April 14, 2004.
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