Vienna 1910. The Hapsburg Empire is in its twilight years, the cafes are full of intellectuals and artists, and World War 1 is on the horizon. Class and ethnic tensions are growing, but many aristocrats refuse to see the future just ahead.
This is a vibrant and fertile setting, but playwright Otho Eskin doesn’t take full advantage of the rich possibilities. Perhaps he’s star-struck, having loaded his play with Big Names: Wittgenstein, Freud, Alma and Gustav Mahler, Stalin, and an unnamed “Young Man,” whose “mysterious” identity becomes clear very quickly. These Big Names all have Big Ideas, but despite some very good work by the actors to bring three-dimensional humanity to the play, the characters remain positions and not people. It is almost as if the playwright believed that because of his characters’ fame we would automatically care what they think, feel, and do. He’s wrong.
There is no real narrative drive, no conflict to resolve, just a series of two-character scenes with the characters espousing their points of view. There is no clear protagonist: is it Mahler, trying to solve the problems in his marriage? Is it Freud, who hits upon an important shift in his theories and has the last word? Or is it the Young Man, who goes from desperation to steely resolve? Any of these could have made good drama, but in his effort to hit philosophical High Notes, Eskin misses the opportunity to explore these — and several other — intriguing issues with any depth.
Director Villar-Hauser effectively uses projections, lighting, and music to establish the locations, the period, and to add emotional color to scenes that are essentially recitations of ideas. But each episode is granted the same weight, so there isn’t a build to a climax, making the short play feel over-long. And there is little for the actors to do, other than sit at café tables or walk along the front of the stage. The Mahlers waltz at their first meeting, but this dance seems forced, and while it could have been used to physicalize the deepening of the characters’ attraction, it instead points up the lack of chemistry between them.
Barnes, so effective in Breakfast with Mugabe (running in rep with Final Analysis) is less successful here. He is suitably imperious when dismissing a persistent fan, but seems more petulant than tormented by the marital woes so concerning he seeks out Freud for a consultation. The lack of chemistry with wife Anna (Jasicki) makes sense for the current relationship between them, but without it in the flashback scenes his desperation to keep her and her capitulation to his strict demands make no sense, and therefore we feel little sympathy for either.
The real chemistry is between Alma and Stalin (Naumovski), in an engaging seduction scene that Freud would have a field day with. Both Michael Satow as Wittgenstein and Ryan Garbayo as the Young Man bring fully realized suffering to their schematic roles. Stephen Bradbury is serviceable in the role of The Waiter; as written nothing else is needed from him. He is essentially the stage directions.
The result is a puzzling mix of historical figures who may or may not be in important moments of their lives. It’s as if the drama is actually in the knowledge of future events the audience brings to bear while watching. While that can be an intriguing exercise, it’s the responsibility of the playwright to provide more.
FINAL ANALYSIS – By Otho Eskin; directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser; sets by Lee Savage; lighting by Joyce Liao; costumes by Jenny Green; sound by Jill BC Du Boff and Emily Auciello; production design by Annie Berman; production stage manager, Jeanne E. Travis; general manager, Lisa Dozier King. Presented by DeVida Jenkins on behalf of VH Theatrical Development Foundation. At the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater, 480 West 42nd Street, Clinton; (212) 279-4200, Ticket Central: 212-279-4200; http://www.ticketcentral.com Through Oct. 5. Running time: 90 minutes
WITH: Ezra Barnes (Gustav Mahler), Stephen Bradbury (The Waiter), Ryan Garbayo (Young Man), Elizabeth Jasicki (Alma Mahler), Gannon McHale (Sigmund Freud), Tony Naumovski (Josef Stalin), Michael Satow (Ludwig Wittenstein).