Mrs. Klein | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Mrs. Klein 

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Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, at Victory Gardens Studio Theater.

There's something disturbing about seeing Viennese psychologist Melanie Klein, one of the seminal figures of modern psychoanalytic theory, get the Mommie Dearest treatment in Nicholas Wright's drama Mrs. Klein. What's most troublesome about Wright's play isn't his unblinking portrayal of Klein as a smotheringly overbearing Jewish mother who may have driven her son to suicide and her daughter toward a nervous breakdown, but his facile reliance on intro-psych philosophizing to explain the Klein family's misery.

Wright hypothesizes that Klein's theories were the result of her own inability to cope with being her father's least favorite child. He also suggests that the emotionally distant Klein used her children as experimental psychoanalytic subjects, re-creating the loveless home of her youth. Setting his play in 1934, after Klein has received news of her son's death, Wright engineers a textbook psychological melodrama in which Klein and daughter try to resolve decades-long conflicts, witnessed by Klein's assistant, an underdeveloped and largely superfluous character.

Loretta Hauser does a splendidly chilling job portraying the domineering menace in Klein's character. But the other actors have less to work with, especially Jennifer Avery, who plays Klein's assistant and, in a peculiar and somehow too convenient twist, her patient and surrogate daughter. Hauser, Avery, and Cameron Feagin, who plays Klein's actual daughter, all struggle with unnecessarily thick German and Austrian accents, which are distracting.

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