Mrs. Klein: An Absorbing, Disturbing Play About Professional Psychotherapists at Theatre Artists Studio in Paradise Valley
The setup: Melanie Klein (1882-1960) was a psychiatric pioneer whose insights into the development of children's personalities, including the introduction of play therapy, supplemented the work of Sigmund Freud, changed analysis forever, and caused the British Psycho-Analytical Society to quarrel internally for decades like a bunch of babies in poopy diapers. The Society finally resolved the conflicts by deciding there are three separate schools of psychoanalysis. It just sounds a lot more fun to be crazy over there.
Mark Gluckman Barbara Acker in Mrs. Klein
See also: Exceptional Equus Is a Triumph for Nearly Naked Theatre
Theatre Artists Studio is a great place to see challenging, sometimes critically acclaimed plays that were never quite popular enough to make it to Arizona on their ability to sell tickets or their authors' name recognition. It's a special niche of theater that's more likely to offend with literary excess than with language or subject matter -- but that's more than made up for by the not-for-profit troupe's ability to present under the auspices of the Actors' Equity Association Members Project Code, which permits the participation of union members: experienced professional actors and stage managers who, along with other talented members and community members who appreciate the opportunity to work with them, boost the quality of each show.
Artistic members of The Studio (as it's called for short) are able to nominate scripts for productions they'd particularly like to see realized, and many of them, as working artists, keep up on the reading of and about new contemporary plays in a way that makes me jealous. Roll all these qualities together and you get seasons that bring you everything from the trippy-but-trenchant whaaaaa? of Maple and Vine to the good old-fashioned comic mystery Accomplice. Currently, The Studio's featuring Mrs. Klein, a drama inspired by the life and work of that same famous psychotherapist we mentioned a while ago. If you think this blog post is wordy, wait until you see the play!
The execution: Seriously, though, the play and, in particular, this production are almost astonishingly good. British playwright Nicholas Wright's work rarely travels across the pond, but Mrs. Klein has the raw materials of such a gripping tour de force that Uta Hagen chose it for what would turn out to be her final Broadway role.
One of Wright's biggest contributions to the stage is a stable of strong, atypical female characters, and three quite different ones populate Mrs. Klein. (Okay, they're all psychotherapists, but they're quite different people.)
Though there's scenery a-plenty to chew, the title role has the most on her plate, and Barbara Acker (with whom I've worked with on a few shows and sometimes socialize), sensitively directed by Robyn Allen (The Whipping Man, Doubt), infuses Klein with genuine emotional and intellectual processes to forge that rare theatrical creation -- someone you can't stand, would probably never forgive, but somehow still feel kind of sorry and even grateful for.