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May 07, 2005

 

"Mrs. Klein": Uta Hagen (1919-2004)


"Mrs. Klein"
As a member of a training institute's curriculum committee, I was asked to give my opinion about whether to include a course about Melanie Klein. I responded that I thought it would be important for the students to learn more about her psychanalytic theory and actual case material (here, I noted that I vehemently opposed much of both---that her aggressive and disarmingly deep interpretations to young children bordered on emotional abuse).

This reminded me that I had many years ago seen the intensely moving first stage production of "Mrs. Klein," with a brilliant performance by Uta Hagen, at the old Theater de Lyse on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. The play was striking in its presentation of Klein's own pathology, dooming her to a life that could well be described as attacking, bitter, and extremely lonely.

The play illustrated how vigorously Klein tried to prevent her own children from separating from her and becoming their own individual beings. She prevented her son, Hans, from attaching to any women other than herself. It has been speculated that he may have attempted to subvert her narcissistic hold by turning to intimate relationships with men, and ultimately by committing suicide.

In the play, Melitta (her daughter) accused Klein of constantly bullying her and Hans as an effort to own both of them. This pathological behavior was highlighted at the end of the play when Klein gave Melitta a cruel "freedom through rejection" by turning to a daughter-substitute who would obey her cruel, ongoing domination. A very sad, sad life.

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