At one point in the Taper Forum play "The Talking Cure," Sigmund Freud warns the young Carl Gustav Jung not to needlessly stir up the enemies of psychoanalytic theory.
"One difficulty is that all in my circle are Jews," Freud explains.
"I don't see what difference that makes," the non-Jewish Jung says.
Observes Freud, dryly, "That is a distinctly Protestant remark."
The Viennese Freud and the Swiss Jung, whose close relationship evolves from prophet and disciple to mutual competition and antagonism, are two sides of the triangle in Christopher Hampton's drama.
Linking the two sides is Sabina Spielrein, a brilliantly neurotic young Russian Jew, whom we meet first as Jung's patient, then his lover, later a patient of Freud and finally a doctor and psychoanalyst herself.
Spielrein was murdered by the Nazis in 1942, a fate she foresees in a brief flash forward during a love scene with Jung.
The triangular relationship is set in the decade between 1904 and 1913, when anti-Semitism was certainly rife in Europe, but that is a minor subtext of the play.
True to its title, "The Talking Cure" is heavy on dialogue, much of it weighty, but hardly boring.
The early evolution of psychiatry and psychoanalysis -- which has had a profound impact on our thinking, perceptions and everyday vocabulary -- is pretty gripping stuff, even for the layman or skeptic.
Add the intellectual infighting between two towering personalities and the sexual ardor of Spielrein, and one can accept the often lengthy and sometimes oversimplified expositions and the rather serious tone of the proceedings.
Fortunately, there is a brief appearance by one Otto Gross, a fascinating footnote in the history of psychoanalysis, who advocated, with equal conviction and flippancy, sex, drugs and
Director Gordon Davidson draws nuanced performances from actors Abby Brammell as Spielrein, Sam Robards as Jung, Harris Yulin as Freud, and Henri Lubatti as Gross.
Only toward the end are there prophetic hints of the fate awaiting the world 25 years later. Freud warns Spielrein, "Put not your trust in Aryans. We are Jews and Jews we will always be."
"The Talking Cure," in its American premiere, runs through May 23 at the Taper Forum. For ticket information, call (213) 628-2772.