Thursday, February 12, 2009

Love in the time of Freud

Looking for some melancholy and dour romance with your Valentine this weekend? Look no further than The New Jewish Theatre, as its production of "Sabina" dives into the depths of the psycho-sexual mind!

The story of Sabina Spielrein is familiar to few but marveled at by all who come into contact with her history. Luckily for us here in St. Louis, the New Jewish Theatre has taken this Valentine's Day weekend to present the true story of her life, complete with dueling affairs with renowned psychologists Freud and Jung, a heroine tale of a woman who rises from the depths of psychological despair to the heights of genius and an ending that provides perspective as to the all-too temporary nature of life.

If all of this sounds a little heavy and hard to handle, that's because it is. Playwright Willy Holtzman's script is a masterpiece of psychoanalytical thought and theory that can certainly leave the average theatre-goer a little dumbfounded. However, the personal relationships that play out on stage are entirely universal and are what make "Sabina" so riveting to watch.

The play tells the story of Sabina, a young Jewish woman who has been institutionalized. She falls under the private care of Dr. Carl Jung, who develops a relationship with his young patient while experimenting with Freudian psycho-analysis through word association. The affair (and eventual dalliance with Dr. Freud as well) will eventually threaten not just their relationship, but the entire opus of Freudian theory as we know it. Add to that the anti-Semitism Freud describes in advancing his work, and you have the basis for the tale, rooted deeply in reality, that makes up this show.

The New Jewish Theatre, while priding itself on focusing on plays that represent Jewish values and culture, is undeniably one of the premiere professional theatre organizations in the region. Taking on an intellectual behemoth like "Sabina" is certainly a challenge, but director Annamaria Pilleggi and her cast make the material accessible through the vehicle of human emotion.

Themes of trust, respect, redemption, anti-Semitism, friendship, love and despair lie not under the surface of this production in some Freudian dream-like consciousness, but instead are put on display from Sabina's opening monologue. And while I won't say that the 2+ hours I spent rank at the very top of my list of great theatre experiences, "Sabina" truly is unlike any show I have ever seen.

All that being said, is it worth your time to see? A few things to consider:

-If you are reading this blog, you will be under the average age in the theatre by about 40 years, I promise.

-The material asks you to think and be an active participant. This is not a show to sit idly by and just enjoy.

-An interest/understanding of some psychology will be helpful in appreciating the show.

So it won't leave you whistling down the aisle on the way out, but it does provide a window into a kind of romance not often associated with Hallmark and Valentine's Day. Maybe just the diversion you need for this "holiday weekend!"

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