Photo by Darren Rafel
Howard Skora's World Premiere Comedy "Freud on Cocaine" .. if for no other reasons than to enjoy Michael Mullen's spectacular costumes is a snow trip not to be missed. (Little hip reference there, eh?)
Skora directs his own play in two acts based on the actual writings of Dr. Sigmund Freud from Freud's book "Cocaine Papers" as well as other personal notes.
The unique quality of the Whitefire Stage is that The Play's The Thing. Freud on Cocaine takes place on an essentially bare stage with a few set pieces, title crards and projections set each scene. It works beautifully as a presentational approach.
The audience is included from the get go with a sort of Greek 'chorus' that proclaims Freud's story in shorthand. The man was many things, but essentially, Sigmund Freud (Jonathan Slavin) was a brilliant guy who was addicted to cocaine.
Skora's direction of his own play, a practice that I mostly don't think is a very good idea, seems to work well. The frantic pace of the story unfolds with a strong emphasis on COCAINE as a cure-all with which Freud expected to stamp his mark upon the world. Sly references to dreams at the close of the argument slide into place as Martha, Freud's wife (beautiful Sara Maraffino) insists that he abandon his cocaine addiction (which he never admits fully to) or lose her.
Each character is finely tuned to complete the cast in such a way that they are undeniable. Most bombastic of the lot is Ernst (Really Really big Aaron LaPlante), Freud's close pal. Unfortunately Ernst is addicted to many drugs. Martha's mom, Emmeline Bernays (steadfast Sigute Miller), holds her own as she attempts to deep six Martha's infatuation with Sigmund.
Merck (Barry Brisco) virtually glows as the German provider and faciltator of Freud's cocaine connection. He stands toe to toe with his cast mates to good effect. Freud contracts to vet for Merck the quality of their coke to boost sales. With his 'research' Freud declares that cocaine is NOT addictive (witness Freud's daily bumps to the tune of a gram a day (which I hear is a lot!)..
Enter Emma Eckstein (Amy Smallman-Winston) with issues of hysteria and problems with being highly sexed and prone to self enjoyment. We learn of a surgival treatment that deals with the nasovaginal connection. It goes haywire. Ow.
Though adorable, Kim Hopkins as the Narrator / Anna Freud, who added copious notes to Freud's The Cocaine Papers, upon which the play has been based (its all fact, we've been told!) in her top hat and tails fails to find the over the top energy laid down by the rest of the cast. It may be an actor's choice, but the value of Freud's lesbian daughter's story is tiny by comparison to the rest of these excellent players. Bigger, Faster, Louder! Please.
It's a World Premiere! The joy of seeing new and exciting theatre that romps a bit is a pleasure.
It's a hit!!
Freud on Cocaine sends up what we have come to understand is a drug of consequence. Cocaine IS addictive.. Terms for cocaine: happy dust and other euphemisms including "punschkrapfen" do not promote the party use of the drug, but tell the story of how, in the late 19th Century, Sigmund Freud parlayed the idea of a sort of Universal Cure-All into his next steps: The Interpretation of Dreams.
The genuinely funny dialogue, along with the over the top melodramatic presentation with title cards and the excellent use of John Knowles' projections, boosted by Skora's 21st Century language and contemporary approach to humor makes Freud on Cocaine a must see.
There are moments of hilarity! Huzzah!
As a resident of the 20th Century, I was disappointed to not have a program in hand. And.. Hey! Freud needs a better bowler.
KIM HOPKINS (Narrator/Anna Freud)
AMY SMALLMAN-WINSTON (EMMA ECKSTEIN)
BARRY BRISCO (EMANUEL MERCK)
SIGUTE MILLER (EMMELINE BERNAYS)
JONATHAN SLAVIN (SIGMUND FREUD)
SARA MARAFFINO (MARTHA FREUD)
AARON LAPLANTE (DR. ERNST VON FLEISCHL-MARXOW)
Freud on Cocaine
Written and Directed by Howard Skora
• Presented by the Whitefire Theatre, Bryan Rasmussen, producing artistic director
Sept. 8 – Nov. 4
• Friday at 8 p.m.: Sept. 8 ONLY (opening night)
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 9; Sept. 16; Sept. 23; Sept. 30; Oct. 7; Oct. 14; Oct. 28; Nov. 4 (dark Oct. 21)
• Sunday at 2 p.m.: Sept 10 ONLY
13500 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
• Valet parking available at Augustine Wine Bar across Sunnyslope from the theater: $9
• Unrestricted parking available on Moorpark St. and on the west side of Dixie Canyon Ave.
• Metered parking on and just south of Ventura Blvd. (off on Sundays)
• 2-hour parking available in residential neighborhoods (Sunday matinees, until 6 p.m.)