No cure for talky drama

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“The Talking Cure” at the Mark Taper Forum is a simplistic exploration of the early days of psychiatry centering on the methods of Jung and Freud. Some kind of tonic is needed as an antidote for a bombardment of rather insipid dialogue. Although the playwright, Christopher Hampton, comes with excellent credentials, he has fashioned a play that is old-fashioned and predictable.

We go to Zurich and Vienna during the period between 1904 and 1913. Time does not fly. Young Carl Jung is following up on Freud’s theories, but using his own methods to treat a young woman who has the kind of tantrums for which two year olds are famous. By exposing the secrets of her childhood, such as enjoyable beatings by her father, Abby Brammell, as Sabina Spielrein, turns from basket case to exemplary citizen faster than you can say Jekyll and Hyde. Although this seems unlikely, the real life Spielrein did become a doctor and write many articles on psychoanalysis.

A stolid Sam Robards who never quite comes across as an interesting study plays Jung, the main character. Harris Yulin has little to do as Sigmund Freud but he does it well. The encounter between him and Jung should be scintillating and revealing, but it fails to enlighten. The theories of the two men are already common knowledge. The real joy of the piece comes from Henri Lubatti who plays a young, budding psychiatrist named Otto Gross. Wild and unconventional, he goes against the common wisdom, and suggests that sleeping with patients is salutary. Not surprisingly, Jung takes him at his word.

Most annoying were the rapid set changes. After every short scene, the lights dim and members of the cast, dressed as nurses and orderlies, move the furniture around and a new background is projected onto a screen. This allows the audience to jump hurriedly from hospital to living room and city to city. The settings and projected images were designed by Peter Wexler. Gordon Davidson served as director.

The two Jung women are played by Sue Cremin as Emma and Taylor Daubens as Agathe. Other cast members were Shiva Rose McDermott, Libby West, P. J. Marino, John Hansen, Bruce Katzman and Emily Rose Morris.

At least the play is probably more entertaining than Psychiatry 101.