Where Three Roads Meet
nytheatre.com review by Stephen Speights
July 21, 2006
Halfway through John Carter's ambitious and intelligent new play Where Three Roads Meet, Sigmund Freud bestows upon his protégé Carl Jung a very high honor. Grabbing a nearby tablecloth and using it as a makeshift prayer shawl, Freud commands the baffled Jung to kneel. Referencing Jewish tradition, Freud blesses Jung, inviting him into Freud's sacred inner circle, and declaring him his chosen heir. That Freud is unaware of the cracks already forming in their shared foundation, cracks suggesting that he and Jung may not, in fact, be members of the same tribe, is ironic testament to a man's ability to repress the subconscious—and we're talking about the man who discovered it.
The intriguing premise of Where Three Roads Meet is that the aging Freud, increasingly concerned that his breakthrough psychoanalytic theory risks marginalization, chooses from among his acolytes the self-doubting Carl Jung as his intellectual heir, because he is a Gentile who might "validate the Jewish science." An imagining of the friendship, collaboration, and eventual schism of these two icons of psychoanalysis, Three Roads culminates in Freud's exile of Jung as a traitor, one who "Christianized" his talking cure with mythical foundation and a validation of the anti-Freud concept of "the soul." For Freud, with his rooting of all human behavior in the physics of the libido, this heresy is the ultimate betrayal.
If it sounds like a heady and intellectually demanding evening of theatre, it is, and over an intermissionless 110 minutes or so, a uniformly excellent cast, fortunately, keeps us engaged in its expansive plot and steady stream of ideas. Robb Hurst gives an accomplished performance as Freud, ably navigating lengthy, difficult spans of text and shifting temperament with aplomb, and carefully avoiding easy caricature and the cheap laugh. Andrew Firda is immensely honest and likeable as Carl Jung. (If the audience seems to root for him, well, the script has weighted the evening in his favor. He is given a struggling marriage, a generous spirit toward a drug-addicted colleague, and a soul-torturing affair with a client. Who doesn't root for the underdog?) Morgan Baker is terrific as the intimidated, genuine, star-struck Ferenczi, as is Curtis Nielson as the half-mad Otto Gross.
Director Will Warren has opted for a presentational approach, perhaps a wise choice given the play's short scenes and globe-trotting story, but one wishes for a production that doesn't relegate a sizeable chunk of its playing space to cast members sitting on the periphery. Several instances of evocative, charming staging show Warren's capacity for inventive detail (e.g., Emma Jung walks on her husband's feet, and the playful intimacy is immediate; Freud overturns seaweed with his walking cane on the downstage lip as he muses on unforeseen revelations lurking beneath the surface) and it would have been nice to see more sparkling moments like these.
Carter's script takes on a lot: a story spiraling in scope, a history lesson filled with detail, and a period piece. It might benefit from another edit, one to help us focus in on the central relationship of our two heroes and away from contextual, but less necessary, storytelling. It would be immensely gratifying for more stage time to be devoted to the unfolding of Freud and Jung's intellectual debates. I was hoping to leave the theatre more knowledgeable of the ideas that brought Freud and Jung to blows, and perhaps understanding what was worth the sacrifice of this friendship. Friendship can withstand a lot, after all, even heresy.