My favorite part of history is learning all of the fascinating little anecdotes, the personal interactions, and the human drama that lurks inside of every historical event. These are the moments where I remember that some parts of human nature (unfortunately) never change. The theatre is full of such stories, of course, as both subjects that get tackled onstage and tales told from behind the scenes.
This shouldn't be shocking; part of theatre's appeal has always been rooted in the pure enjoyment gained from listening to a good story. But every once in a while a story can be so fantastic that telling it theatrically becomes rather difficult. As strange as that sounds, that is the main stumbling block for an interesting play by Otho Eskin called Final Analysis, currently playing at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre.
The background information surrounding the historical moment of the play, Vienna in 1910, and the characters represented are very interesting in combination, yet the play fails to catalyze them. This is not a failure of the production, which does a great job with a mediocre script. Eskin had a great concept in thinking about connecting all of the influential people in Vienna at that time, and of course there is a historical basis for several of the most important scenes, yet all of this cannot fix the arc of the play itself.
I am purposefully being vague here because the play's greatest victory is in the revelation -- solely through the plot -- of the identity of an important historical character who appears, but is never actually named, in the play. Yet, as I have seen in other plays that rely on fascinating historical events to provide plots, there is little else by way of conflict.
Director Ludovica Villar-Hauser has done a very nice job of using strong performances to overcome the closet-drama qualities of the script. Actors such as Ryan Garbayo, Michael Satow, and Gannon McHale -- playing Young Man, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Sigmund Freud respectively -- bring a great deal of energy to their roles. Yet again, it is Eskin's decidedly un-subtle script that robs these actors of a chance to play fully three-dimensional characters.
It is because of the work of these artists that the play is indeed entertaining, and the audience certainly enjoyed it. Final Analysis reminds me stylistically of the early Eugene O'Neill plays, which are characterized by a great emphasis on words and their foreshadowing of momentous events in place of physical action.
Why is it a problem, then, to write a play about a situation that is fascinating and important for historical reasons? Because it means that the actual plot of the play does not occur within the play, if that makes sense. The climax of the play then becomes a connection to a whole different story that exists in another time period and another world (the real world versus the world of the play).
This is not necessarily a problem, but Final Analysis reminded me of the difficulties in how plays could stand in and around historical events. However they do this, I always think a playwright owes it to himself or herself to commit as much to the world inside of the play as the play commits itself to outside events.
Final Analysis was certainly thought provoking, and if you have any interest in Freud, Wittgenstein, or early 20th century world history, you should definitely head over The Pershing Square Signature Center. It is a show about one particular analysis which certainly can be considered part of one important final countdown.