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The Visitor. We’re in Sigmund Freud’s ornately cozy office in Vienna, 1938. Freud’s daughter, Anna, is urging her father to flee, which he can do if he signs a German-drafted statement, but he’s torn, uneasy at leaving his world and everyone he cares for behind. There’s talk about the persecution of the Jews, and then a visit by a Gestapo agent, whom Anna unwisely taunts. She is taken away for questioning. And at this point in Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s play, The Visitor of the title enters, a slim young man nattily attired in top hat and tails. He may be God, this man, or simply an escaped lunatic. He and Freud eventually engage in a long back-and-forth about humanity’s need for religion and the possibility of belief in the face of the manifest evil seething all around them. There are some witty lines and some amusing moments, as when The Visitor gets Dr. Freud to lie back on his own couch. But the concept turns out to be less intriguing than it might at first appear, and the characters are never convincingly human. Why would Anna Freud, one of the most intelligent women on earth, hurl gibes about his manhood at a threateningly armed Nazi, then appear unconcerned as she’s dragged away? And with the exception of a few perfunctory comments, her loving father seems to forget for long stretches of time that his daughter is in the custody of the Gestapo. Schmitt means us to understand that it’s precisely because of his fear and worry over Anna that Freud’s customary atheism falters, but the script outlines the idea rather than making it live. Rick Bernstein is a convincing Freud, though the portrayal lacks the requisite depth of insight and intellect, and Laura Lunge is a rather superficial Anna. Eric Mather makes for a dapper Visitor, expressive and funny, and sometimes showing real feeling. But all of Mather’s elegance and curly-haired charm can’t make the endless stretches of debate — the yelling, emotion and declamation — watchable, and there’s a kind of archness to the play that’s almost unbearable. These arguments flying between Freud and his visitor — In the light of Auschwitz, how can you believe in a loving God? God is created by our need for a god. We are given free will, and God is not responsible for our crimes. Sometimes God gives up on us — we’ve heard them before. And Schmitt’s fey humor simply doesn’t stand up to the all-compelling horror of the setting. If, watching his play, you believed that Anna really was in danger, that Jews were being beaten and humiliated just beyond the walls of Freud’s warm, Persian-carpeted study, the discussion about God would take on real urgency. But though I tried, I couldn’t believe it. Not for a second.

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