The Talking Cure

“The Talking Cure”
a kate west review
by Christopher Hampton; directed by Gordon Davidson
at the Mark Taper Forum

135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles 90012
April 4 –
May 23, 2004; call (213) 972-7376

The two most recognized names in Psychiatry, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, are often remembered together and although they did work closely for a time, they were very different. Tony-award winning playwright Christopher Hampton’s “The Talking Cure,” now at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, illustrates these differences and relates the events leading to the two men’s inevitable estrangement. What distinquishes this story is the introduction of Sabina Spielrein, who, after suffering in a mental institution, is cured by Jung, has an affair with him and then becomes a reputable psychiatrist in her own right.

Harris Yulin is the stern, inflexible Freud and Sam Robards is the passionate and confused Jung. Abby Brammell plays the bright and promising Spielrein. The actors seem a bit stiff in the first half of the play but warm up by the second half, especially Robards.

Spielrein, suffering from a mental and sexual disorder, is brought in to the Burgholzli Mental Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, where she meets Jung. He is ecstatic at the prospect of trying out his mentor’s (Freud) new “talking cure” on an actual patient. He believes he can cure her by delving into her childhood and talking her through her traumas. He is so swept away with euphoria when he succeeds that he falls in love with her, dismissing any suggestion of transference* and betrays his wife, family and Freud, the father figure. This leads to much feuding and by the end, Jung is friends with no one and although he is no longer seeing Spielrein, she implores him to reconcile with Freud, but it is not to be. She feels the two men are very much the same but Jung vehemently disagrees.

The play is essentially a live essay on the theories and practices of these three vibrantly intelligent forward-thinkers but does not offer any particular insight. While it is interesting to note how the radical new ideas of the early 1900’s must have seemed remarkably extreme back then, we tend to take the terminology for granted today. Although most people are unaware of the nature of the relationships among the three, we are still left feeling that there is no real added dimension to the story.

Set Designer Peter Wexler creates a fascinatingly simple set, which is at first a mental hospital which he converts into Freud’s office, an ocean liner and finally a beautiful backyard garden, all by moving a few pieces of furniture and changing the lighting. Its stark economy is impressive. The directing and acting are fairly solid but aside from learning about Spielrein, we learn nothing much new.

*The process by which emotions and desires originally associated with one person, such as a parent or sibling, are unconsciously shifted to another person, especially to the analyst.

The Talking Cure

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