nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
July 17, 2012
Circa 1910 in Vienna, some of the most creative and destructive personalities in world history crossed paths, or could have. In Otho Eskin's fascinating play Final Analysis, we are treated to the conversations of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, composer Gustav Mahler, his equally passionate wife Alma, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, future dictator Stalin, and an unnamed, disgruntled Austrian art student with plans of world domination.
On the surface, Vienna is an artistic and intellectual center where everyone is happy. This image is simultaneously reinforced and challenged when Ludwig Wittgenstein is disturbed in a café by a former schoolmate who is selling his artwork. The greasy, angry artist, who was expelled from school, is someone Wittgenstein confesses he never liked and does not wish to see. We now understand that the snobbish elite of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are disliked and are bound to fall. Since the young artist is Adolf Hitler, we will see how he transforms his hatred into idealizing everything he is not, namely blond, respected and dominant.
Dignified Doctor Freud is somewhat resented for talking about sex so much. His patient, Gustav Mahler, notes the rise of anti-Semitism among the lower classes. Mahler, who converted from Judaism to Catholicism decades earlier for the sake of his career, is perhaps used to concealing parts of his self to achieve his goals. He is locked in combat with his wife Alma, also a composer, who has given up her own musical pursuits. Freud expounds on mankind's drive towards pleasure, and warns Mahler that Alma is not his mother; it will not be possible to be both a good husband and a good composer.
Speaking of combat, the young artist meets Comrade Stalin in a café. Over a game of chess, they discuss methods of social change but cannot agree. Stalin tells the artist that they will surely meet again later.
Late at night in the street, Freud is accosted by the artist. They talk of the subconscious motivation of humanity: the pleasure principle. Based on his talks with Mahler and the artist, Freud starts to regard hatred as just as great a motivator as love.
This well-written play examines society from the point of view of the outsider. As such, and also because of worsening economic conditions, the message is still applicable. Nowadays, don't we have even more married couples who both try to pursue their careers? Director Ludovica Villar-Hauser has provided a balance between those who feel comfortable questioning the status quo and those who feel equally uncomfortable. It is possible to step into each character's shoes. I very much enjoyed Gannon McHale as Freud; when his calm demeanor for 90% of the play slowly eroded, it boded ill for society. Ezra Barnes as Mahler is quite sympathetic as the everyman who tries his best to pursue two things he thinks he wants. Elizabeth Jasicki as Alma also shows the frustration of a woman who accepted the terms of a bad marriage; this portrayal went against the virago I was expecting. Michael Goldsmith as the young artist is a character so annoying he cannot help making an impression; the play is well served by his complex performance. Jenny Green's costume design and Brittany Vasta's set provide the beautiful background of a civilization in its last days.