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Richard Brockman and his wife Mirra Bank puting Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna on Stage
By Miri Ben-Shalom

Miri Ben-Shalom was born in Israel and studied Theater at Tel Aviv University. Since 1973 in New York. Miri has been a documentary filmmaker and editor for more than twenty years. She worked for the major TV networks, as well as many independent productions. She co-produced and edited the documentary preserving the Past to Ensure the Future that was nominated for an Academy Award. For other works she is a Telly Awards recipient, a US International Film and Video Festival winner and received a 1998 National Headliners Award. She also wrote several feature length screenplays. In the last three years Miri returned to her original interest – theatre Currently, the play I Want the Whole World to See that I Can Cry through her non-profit company From Home to Homeland, Inc., she is working on producing this play for the stage, as well as a touring educational version for high school and college students to enhance the teaching of the WWII Holocaust curriculum. www.icancry.org   Miri is also the Literary Liaison of The Genesius Theatre Guild www.genesiusguild.org   e-mail : mirib@earthlink.net  

Five O’Clock, a play about Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna, is showing at the off-Broadway Workshop Theater Company. Written by Richard Brockman and directed by Mirra Bank, the play focuses on two periods in their life: 1918, when Freud was in the prime of his career, a “guru” to the world of psychotherapy. Psychoanalyzing his daughter, Anna, Freud is using her case, as if she were a stranger, to teach others about women’s repressed sexuality. It takes us a while to realize that his patient is indeed his own daughter Anna. The other period is 1938, when the Nazi regime was in power, and Jews were rounded up and taken away.

This is a non-linear provocative and interesting drama. Flashbacks, dreams and memories from various periods are interwoven throughout the play along with music, sound effects and film clips of marching German soldiers, and other mass Nazi rallies..

Reactions to the play were mixed. The Villager, a weekly newspaper of down town Manhattan, calls it “a compelling psycho poetic new Drama”. The writer, Jerry Tallmer concentrates on the second act of the play: “Twelve hours of Anna Freud under a Nazi interrogation lamp”. This, no doubt, is the most powerful and dramatic part of the play. “On March 22, 1938, 13 days after Hitler’s troops marched into Austria to solidify the Anschluss with Germany, the Gestapo showed up at Bergasse 19, Vienna, in a big black touring car…. What happened next – the 12 hours interrogation of Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund Freud – unravels in a few knuckle-clenching minutes in the play… Anna Freud somehow returned home alive that night. It was perhaps easier to maintain her equilibrium with the Gestapo than to persuade her 82-year-old, cancer-redden father – the man who psychoanalyzed her, with full emphasis on the sexual aspect of her psyche – that he must now, yes, now, in March 1938, clear out his beloved Vienna and leave for London in order to save his life, and hers”.

The Jewish Week was less enthusiastic: “Freudian drama doesn’t dig deeply enough into psychology of man who invented psychoanalysis”. The reviewer criticizes several aspects of the play – the structure, the characters and its depth. “5 O’Clock, perhaps deliberately, is choppy and difficult to digest. Liz Amberly plays Anna as a high-strung, sever, dowdily dressed, extremely sexually repressed woman. She does not, however, seem particularly complex, interesting or easy to identify with. Bob Adrian plays Freud as peevish, imperious, and profane, but not terribly interesting – not someone, in other words, whom you might want to sit next to at dinner. Their analytic sessions, in which Anna tells her father her dreams, feelings and fantasies – many of which, of course, relate to him – are thus less dramatic than one might expect.” “Most of the characters” adds the reviewer, Ted Merwin, “are less then fully drawn. The two are observed by a pair of medical students, (Harry Peerce and Jake Robards) who, Freud makes it clear, cannot disagree with him. Peerce also wanders in and out of other scenes as a rabbi reciting Kadish; it is not clear what this has to do with anything. Robards also plays young Hitler sketching by the quay; this seems gratuitous.”
“The best scene” Mr. Merwin writes, “is the Act II interrogation. Anna is questioned by Commandant Schmidt (Christopher Graham), who plays the Nazi officer with a perfect blend of oiliness, smiling suavity and studied casualness. His pretend sympathy, as he sketches her portrait, is terrifying in its blankness. Only after calling psychoanalysts and their ilk ‘Jewish, Marxist filth’ does he give her the opportunity to escape – if she takes a gun and kills his dog. The play finally reaches a moment of high drama, even if somewhat artificially created”.

“The play captures the essence of the Sigmund Freud-Anna Freud oedipal relationship”, writes Irene Backalenick for Back Stage, a weekly performing arts newspaper and on-line resource. “Scattered pieces of the story fly through the air like papers after an explosion. It is difficult to determine what happened when and where and to whom. Is the woman on the couch Anna or another patient of Freud? The story of the Freuds calls for dreams and flashbacks, but a more linear play would have been easier on the audience.”
However, Ms. Backalenick reacts more positively to the play: “Fortunately, director Mira Bank has assembled a solid cast. In particular, Bob Adrian provides a strong core to the proceedings, portraying a crusty, pompous, and thoroughly believable Sigmund Freud. And Christopher Graham is outstanding as the Nazi commandant (though he and the director overextend his scene, milking it for all it's worth). And Liz Amberly grows steadily in the role of Anna -- from the stuttering, insecure girl to the strong, assured woman. Strong support comes from Linda Sheridan and Dena Tyler in a variety of roles that add substance to the story.
Individual scenes are often powerful, as when Sigmund and Martha Freud learn of their daughter Sophie's death, and when Anna confronts the commandant. And film clips are used judiciously and highly effectively.
Nevertheless, this Freudian tale leaves one in a state of bewilderment. Brockman might well take it back to the drawing board for further refinement.”

It is not the first collaboration between the husband and wife team of Richard Brockman, the playwright, and Mirra Bank, the director. Mr. Brockman, a practicing psychiatrist who also teaches at Columbia University, is the author of several plays, among them Angel Don’t Dance and Black Devil, which were directed by Ms. Bank. Mirra Bank is also a successful filmmaker. Her feature documentary Last Dance will be broadcast on the Sundance Channel, November 10th, 2003. Recently I met with them in their floor-through apartment on the Upper-West-Side of Manhattan. “The purpose of the play” said Mr. Brockman “was to portray a woman, fiercely devoted to her father, so much that her life is dependent on it, and a father, so domineering, that the result is her breaking away. This is seen at the Gestapo interrogation – which is also a form of psychoanalysis, though here, for the first time in her life, Anna asserts herself and acts.”

“Why write a play,” I ask, “in which all the characters are negative, especially such a well known personalities as Sigmund Freud, who is portrayed as an arrogant, women’s hater, megalomaniac tyrant, and Anna Freud, who is depicted as timid, self loathing and sexually repressed woman”? “This is problematic in the play”, Mr. Brockman admits. “In the rewrite I plan, he will be more balanced. While keeping his tyrannical opinionated personality, I’ll also show his kind side, to create a fuller character. Also Anna’s character will be made clearer, and she will complete a more defined journey from a timid, repressed person, to a stronger, self-assertive woman”.

That the Gestapo interrogated Anna is an historical fact. What happened in the interrogation room is not known. The playwright has taken the creative liberty to make up those events, along with other interpretations of historical, unsubstantiated assertions, such as the lesbian relationship between Anna and the American Dorothy Burlingham; or the love affair between Freud and his sister-in-law, Minna. “How much of the play is true to facts and how much of it is made up?” I asked the playwright. “I relied on several biographies, as well as letters and other related documents”, says Mr. Brockman, “but I took huge liberty while writing the play. For example, Anna was analyzed by her father, this is a fact. What happened during the sessions, I made all up, though basing it upon essays, regarding fictitious characters that both Anna and Sigmund wrote about. It is a fact that they loved dogs and had a dog name Jofi, but the dog in the interrogation room and the horrible choice that Anna had to face is made up. In fact, in reality Anna never became a strong self-assured woman, as she is depicted as becoming in the play. It’s true that Anna most likely never met the teenage artist Hitler, but it’s a fact that he was in Vienna, at the same market place, the same period, so theoretically it’s a possibility”. Anna’s attraction to the young artist as a little girl, and then her standing up to him when older, and it’s understood that it is young Hitler - suggests a parallelism to her relationship with her father.

The play doubles and triples up several roles. The talented Dena Tyler, who glides smoothly among the characters, plays all the roles of Sophie, Anna’s sister, as well as their mother and Yofi, the dog. Jed Dickson plays a conductor, butler and SS guard. “Though sometimes it’s a financial necessity, I’m actually looking forward to doubling characters” says the director Mirra Bank. “It is inspiring and stimulating to create one character, then a completely different one – even opposite to each other, with the same actor. It’s works very well if it’s done right. It was a directorial decision to use one actress for all the female characters in Freud’s life, including his dog. Though completely different from each other, they were all submissive to him and extremely protective of him”. Nonetheless, I found it confusing that the dog played by the actress who is also Sophie. And I found it difficult to accept that the uniformed SS Guard is also a butler, minus the armband with a swastika.

“The film clips, the sound and music – knowing your background – was it a director choice?” “We started our collaboration already during the writing phase. The playwright felt the need to illuminate the play by bringing the world outside into Freud’s indoors. This part, we knew, had to be absolutely credible. As a filmmaker, I thought that authentic period film clips and sound would achieve this goal. After all the world of Vienna, 1938 is the sea in which the story swims in”.

“Freud was known to be a completely secular Jew, however, Judaism and Jewish prayers are a constant present throughout the play. Why” I asked, “Yes, he was secular, and like Karl Marx he believed that religion is opium to the masses. However, unlike Marx, the rest of his family was rooted in Judaism. As a teenager, he once, on a train, risked himself by standing up for an old man, who was assaulted for being Jewish…. And then, toward the end of his life, he must leave his beloved Vienna, because he is a Jew…. I don’t know, maybe it’s a wishful thinking; maybe I wish that he were more Jewish, that it was his choice at the end, to retreat to his Jewish roots”.

The director-playwright relationship is often strenuous, and always intense. “How is it to be married and to work together”? I asked. “I love it,” says Bank, “conflicts and discovery are exciting to bring to a marriage. Yes, there were situations where battles over real difference of opinion occurred, but over whole, I embrace the chance to have this intense relationship”. “ I am wise enough to always differ to the director,” says Brockman with a smile, “the struggles were sometimes fierce – but none deal breakers, not for the project and not for the marriage. We always have the confidence in each other and the confidence that the creative process will win”

Related Links:

  • Miri Ben -Shalom's Home page
  • Five O'Clock- a new play about the relationship between Sigmund and Anna Freud
  • New York Theatre Guide

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      N. Summers, Jax, Florida    (3/1/2006)
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  • Miri Ben Shalom

    Bob Adrian (Sigmund Freud) and Liz (Anna) in 5 O’Clock

    Liz Amberly (Anna) and Cristopher Graham (Commandant Schmidt ) in 5 O’Clock

    Liz Amberly(Anna) and Jake Robards (young Hitler) in5 O’Clock

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