Mrs. Klein focuses on the neurotic and narcissistic
By Nicholas Wright. Directed by Charles Siegel. A United Players production. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Saturday, November 13. Continues until December 5
Three psychoanalysts in one play is at least two too many.
Set in 1934, British playwright Nicholas Wright’s 1988 script centres on psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, a historical figure known for her theories on early childhood development.
As the lights come up on Act 1, Klein’s son Hans has just died in what seems to have been a climbing accident. Then Klein’s daughter, Melitta, who is also a psychoanalyst, arrives. Melitta believes her brother’s death was a suicide, and tells her mom, “Hans died because he couldn’t bring himself to hate you.”
Melitta has less difficulty in that department. Klein used both her children as psychoanalytic subjects, and Melitta quotes a published passage in which her mother notes her teenage daughter’s “only average intelligence”. Klein says, “It seemed important to remain detached.” In dealing with her adult daughter, Klein continues to be the mother from hell: when Melitta attempts to assert herself, Klein accuses her of being a shoddy clinician and threatens to have her barred from their professional association.
Paula, a recent refugee from Nazi Germany, the play’s third psychoanalyst—and a substitute daughter—waits in the metaphorical wings.
In the world-view that these three share, absolutely everything is a symbol of a penis, a breast, urine, or feces. Sometimes their babble is deliberately played for laughs (“No hard feelings?” “Not on a conscious level”), and the play legitimately criticizes psychoanalysis as a theory-heavy approach that has little to do with reality.
But why spend an evening with these neurotic, narcissistic women? The script’s drama, a kind of detective story about Hans’s death, doesn’t gain significant dramatic force until the second act.
Under Charles Siegel’s direction, the actors in this United Players production all do decent work. Joan Bryans delivers a highly intelligent performance as Klein, but doesn’t fully embody the monumentality of her character’s ego or emotions. Alison Raine’s Melitta is, appropriately, as high-strung as a Chihuahua, and Trina McClure makes Paula a welcome oasis of relative calm.
Still, for most of the evening, I longed for Sigmund Freud to appear—maybe in a dream sequence—and holler, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!”