Final Analysis and Breakfast With Mugabe
Final Analysis focuses primarily on meetings between Sigmund Freud (Gannon McHale) and the composer Gustav Mahler (Ezra Barnes). The supremely misogynistic Mahler seeks Freud’s help in resolving problems relating to his failing marriage to his wife, Alma (Elizabeth Jasicki with an unfalteringly patrician demeanor). Along the way we are introduced to a hirsute young Georgian Communist (a well-cast Tony Naumovski) and a troubled young artist who loves Wagner and hates Jews (Ryan Garbayo). Playwright Eskin tries to be coy about his identity, but it’s pretty clear that we’re watching a postadolescent Adolf Hitler. Garbayo appears vampiric in this role, dark rings surrounding his glazed-over eyes, like a school kid on too much Ritalin.
It can be great fun to imagine meetings between these incipient dictators and it gives actors an opportunity to menacingly utter lines like, “Remember my name. Remember it well. I call myself Stalin…Joseph Stalin!” (Buhahahaha *lightning clap*) Yet these encounters do little to illuminate the nascence of authoritarianism. When Hitler corners the Jewish-by-birth Mahler in a café and asks the composer to read his opera, Mahler calls it “worthless trash,” thereby cementing Hitler’s anti-Semitism. An encounter between the hopelessly aristocratic Alma Mahler and young Stalin is far more fruitful, brimming with class-driven sexual intrigue.
While the backdrop of a cultural capital rife with inequality and dominated by an out-of-touch elite feels particularly prescient on 42nd street, a final scene between Freud and Hitler set on a riverbank — “You’ve been a great help to me, doctor. If we hadn’t met I probably would have disappeared into the Danube” — feels like a false epiphany at best.
Grace’s Breakfast With Mugabe offers a much more nuanced look at a currently living autocrat. Eighty-nine-year-old Robert Mugabe has been the president of Zimbabwe since 1987. He was recently reelected for a seventh term in office in an election that many have deemed fraudulent. Breakfast With Mugabe imagines a series of psychoanalytic sessions between Mugabe (Michael Rogers) and a therapist descended from white farmers, Andrew Peric (Ezra Barnes) in the months leading to the 2002 presidential elections.
Admittedly, this play traffics in a complicated political history that may not be familiar to most Americans. Grace uses the psychoanalytic sessions to cover some major exposition, and it is easy to miss certain important details.
That said, it is impossible to miss the fact that Mugabe has some serious baggage and a palpable disdain for white people. Rogers hauntingly captures Africa’s longest-serving president, a man who need not raise his voice to keep those around him walking on eggshells. This includes his wife, Grace Mugabe (Rosalyn Coleman), who plays the Queen of Hearts when her husband is away (this role is especially aided by Teresa Snider-Stein’s simultaneously fantastical yet realistic costumes — think vintage Erykah Badu), but is a meek secretary-turned-second-wife in his presence.
So much of Rogers’ performance is about the power of suggestion and softly spoken terror. When he does raise his voice, however, as in a scene set at a ZANU-PF political rally, the effect is truly terrifying: “Our party must strike fear into the heart of the white man.” Mugabe’s amplified voice reverberates throughout the theater (thanks to Colin Whitely’s superior sound design). Did the consultation of the white psychoanalyst (and farmer) lead him to the realization that his government must be more aggressive in its campaign against white landowners?
Lovers of politics and history will likely find something to enjoy in both of these plays, but Breakfast With Mugabe is both the more challenging and rewarding of the two.