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A CurtainUp Review
In Final Analyis Eskin takes us back to Vienna shortly before World War I, using an actual historical incident to bring together classical composer and maestro Gustav Mahler(Ezra Barnes) and Sigmund Freud (Gannon McHale). It seems that Mahler sought out Freud to counsel him about his troubled marriage to his much younger wife Alma. But this is no duet, but a septet that includes Alma (Elizabeth Jasicki), philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (Michael Satow), a young proseletizing Josef Stalin (Tony Naumovski), and a nameless young man (Ryan Garbayo) whose mad ramblings quickly make his true identity apparent. And oh, yes, there's an all-seeing, waiter (Stephen Bradbury) to serve as narrator, as the scene shifts to another pas de deux.
Unfortunately this isn't a case of more is better. Eskin's cast of already and still to be famous people from the arts, science and politics who interact in a typical Vienna coffee house is indeed fascinating. The addition of the two outsiders (the young Stalin and the easy to identify nameless young man) doesn't just add a whimsical touch. They and the pessimistic Wittgenstein serve as the dark overall theme, foreshadowing of the tragic world events that include not one but two world words and reshaped Freud's beliefs. However, it makes for a play that's so overstuffed with personalities and themes so that the main conflict about Mahler's problem of having to choose between his two loves, Alma and music. In giving all these characters equal time in the course of ninety minutes to combine their personal issues with the issues of their day and days to come, comes off too much like a too facile condensed history lesson than a solidly structured drama.
The production has its strong points. The waiter/narrator's introduction nicely establishes the main theme of a doomed golden era of intellectuals' disillusionment, incredible suffering, with projections depicting a vibrant Vienna to set the scene of the otherwise barely furnished stage. However, the projections after that add little to either atmosphere or plot, with the projected cafe windows rather sterile since they never serve their function of showing the people passing by and looking in.
Eskin sets up the Mahler-Freud sessions during walks rather than in Freud's consulting room by having Mahler explain his nervousness about being spotted as a patient of the man whose science was still new and controversial. However, since they often stop and stand still as they talk, why couldn't Ms. Villar-Hauser have let them sit down and have a coffee (maybe even a piece of sachertorte "mit shlag" (whipped cream to add a touch of authenticity to the Vienna locale?
The best parts of these sessions are the occasional flashbacks that dramatize the Mahler love story which as doomed as the society they live in. The standout of these flashbacks has Alma, resentful of his having made her abandon her own musical career, tell Gustav that she hates his music, preferring her own music and Haydn's to his which she considers vulgar.
As for the acting. Ezra Barnes, despite the scene in which he presents his case for demanding Alma's devoting herself strictly to him in almost laughably chauvinist terms, does his best with Mahler's conflict about his Jewishness as well as his choice between love for Alma and his music. (Barnes also appears in Breakfast with Mugabe with which it plays in repertory). Jasicki is lovely and beautifully dressed by costumer Jenny Green. She has a funny scene with the quite hilarious but cartoonish Stalin figure when she asks him to shoot her so she can really feel alive and Stalin rejects her wanting to join his revolution with No! You are far too dangerous."
The rest of the cast is competent though, except for Gannon McHale's Freud, the actors' seem to strain at projecting their voices which seem rather harsh given that this is a play focusing on a major composer, would have actors whose voices seem less strained and harsh.
Eskin would have been well advised to stick closer to the format of his own Duet, or Mark St. Germain's super successful two-hander Freud's Last Session the good doctor was part of an imagined conversation with the C. S. Lewis. A little more of Mahler's music might have made have mitigated the structural shortcomings.