Actors Prevent Slip into Freudian Nonsense

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Valeo Daily Herald Theater Critic

"Mrs. Klein"

- Mini-review: extraordinary acting breathes life into moribund script

- Location: Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St., Chicago

- Times: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays

- Parking: valet parking $6

- Tickets: $25-$45

- Box office: (312) 988-9000

As a play, "Mrs. Klein" has problems.

The first act goes in circles much of the time instead of moving forward, and playwright Nicholas Wright gave one character so little to do that she is little more than a piece of furniture.

The play doesn't work well as biography either. Since it revolves around Melanie Klein, one of Freud's early followers, it is steeped in Freudian theories that look ludicrous in this era of serious brain science. When Klein throws a glass of wine in the face of her impudent daughter Melitta, who also has become a psychotherapist, the younger woman wastes no time in making an arbitrary Freudian interpretation: "You were trying to drown me in symbolic urine!" she exclaims.

And during a ridiculous mother-daughter squabble over ownership of a car, Melitta delivers the most delectable line in the play: "It's not a penis! It's a 1927 Sunbeam!"

And yet, as a demonstration of acting, the production of "Mrs. Klein" currently at the Royal George Theatre is a marvel. Uta Hagen is so focused and so thoroughly immersed in her character that her skill is almost distracting.

And after hundreds of performances together in New York, she meshes perfectly with Laila Robins, who plays Klein's daughter, and Amy Wright, who plays a young therapist who is trying to ingratiate herself into Klein's world. These three actors are working on the same set they used in New York, and they are wearing the same costumes.

But their performances seem even richer and deeper than they did when I saw them a year ago. These characters fight ferociously; they careen from deep affection to bitter hatred; they cry real tears. …