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Mahler, Mugabe See Shrinks, Stay Crazy: Jeremy Gerard

'Breakfast With Mugabe'
Ezra Barnes and Michael Rogers as a psychiatrist and the Zimbabwe president in "Breakfast With Mugabe." The play by Frasere Grace is running off-Broadway at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Photographer: Joseph Henry Ritter/Sam Mattingly via Bloomberg

The famous folks frequenting the Vienna cafe in 1910 reads like the Who’s Who of a Tom Stoppard play: Gustav Mahler and his wife, Alma; young Ludwig Wittgenstein; younger Josef Stalin and, doling out sage advice, homburg-topped, cigar-smoking Sigmund Freud.

Otho Eskin’s “Final Analysis” is no “Travesties,” though it is a travesty, reducing brilliant minds and disturbing passions to soap-operatics and dime-store psychologizing.

Rigid Mahler turns to Freud to find out why relations with fiery Alma have gone cold. “Frere Jacques” threads through Gustav’s dreams of mommy, while his first symphony plays in the background.

Wittgenstein mumbles philosophically about his latent homosexual urgings. Stalin grows rantier by the minute. Anti-Semitism simmers in the coffee-scented klatsches as war looms.

Simplistic and at times distasteful in its reductivism, “Final Analysis” is crudely staged by Ludovica Villar-Hauser; characters trundle on and off the stage to deliver silly lines in brief, disjointed scenes. It’s a cartoon. (Rating: *)

Robert Mugabe

Ezra Barnes, the good actor who plays Mahler poorly, takes a turn as a shrink himself in “Breakfast With Mugabe,” about the tyrant in revolutionist’s clothing obsessed with the illusion that “free” elections keep him in power and invest him with an open mandate.

Driven half-mad by blood lust and power, the black Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (Michael Rogers) has summoned Barnes’s white psychiatrist Andrew Peric (Barnes) to exorcize an “ngozi,” or poltergeist, that’s been torturing him. It may be the spirit of a political rival dispatched under suspicious circumstances.

Peric reluctantly agrees to treat the president, demanding, a la “The King’s Speech,” that his patient defer to him. Let’s just say this makes Mugabe uncomfortable.

The leader’s wife, Grace, has an agenda too: Mugabe’s paranoia has interfered with her shopping expeditions. She wants her freedom, or at least her driver, back.

Based on a rumor that Mugabe sought treatment around the time of his 2002 election, “Breakfast” is strongly acted (Rogers has an uncanny gift for the leader’s physical tics and vocal mannerisms), but dramatically inert.

Although its violent climax is unearned and melodramatic, the play never lost my attention. Credit director David Shookhoff and a strong cast. Rating: ***

“Final Analysis” and “Breakfast With Mugabe” run in repertory through Oct. 6 at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-279-4200;

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include movies and New York Weekend.

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