The name Freud comes up twice in Westside theatre this week.
At the Broad Stage, the much-anticipated “Freud’s Last Session” begins previews on Friday for its L.A. debut. With a stellar new cast, this award-winning play also features “talk back” sessions following select performances, before and after opening night on Jan. 16.
At UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA), London’s edgy Cheek by Jowl revives a 400-year-old play, “’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” at Freud Playhouse. It opened Jan. 9 and its brief run ends Saturday. (By the way, unlike the good doctor, the theatre’s name is pronounced Frood, not Froyd.)
And Jacaranda: Music at the Edge begins “Focus on Eötvös Week,” its partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, featuring works by celebrated Hungarian composer/conductor Peter Eötvös. His operas “Angels in America” and “Three Sisters” have been widely praised. They’re showcasing a U.S. premiere by Eötvös, co-commissioned for Jacaranda, and his only conducting appearance this Saturday at Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church.
The last of it
“Freud’s Last Session” is the award-winning play by Mark St. Germain that wowed off-Broadway audiences and sold-out houses in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas, Argentina, Stockholm and beyond with additional productions planned worldwide. And the play’s barely two-and-a-half years old!
This rendition features a new cast, working with the play and each other for the first time. TV stars Judd Hirsch (“Taxi”) and Tom Cavanagh (“Ed”) seem ideally suited to their roles. Purely visually, Hirsch’s gray hair and beard make him a natural as Freud. And from what I’ve seen of Cavanagh, he has the right combination of natural reserve and dry wit to make C.S. Lewis his own.
It’s a clash of intellects. Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, and C.S. Lewis, the atheist academic who became a Christian author renowned for “The Narnia Chronicles,” square off in a personal debate about the existence of God, love, sex and the meaning of life — only two weeks before Freud chooses to take his own.
The Broad plans a number of audience “talkback” sessions following both previews and performances, including one this Saturday with the playwright, the actors and Eric Metaxas, author of “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” On Sunday, the actors are joined by author Jack Miles, who penned “God: The Biography.”
Find out more about tickets and talkbacks at thebroadstage.com/Freud.
In the family
Even Dr. Freud might have raised an eyebrow over “’Tis Pity She’s A Whore.” John Ford’s Jacobean tragedy, first published in 1633 and considered an English classic, has often been banned. It’s the story of incestuous love between brother and sister, and the bloody consequences of their consummation. It was controversial in its day, no less so today, and it’s been adapted in various formats on stage and in film across the centuries.
This morally challenging production comes from Cheek by Jowl, the daring London-based experimental theatre company that has achieved both popular and critical acclaim since its inception in 1981. They put spare staging and set design together and focus on acting to breathe modern life into old texts, from Shakespeare and Chekhov to pre-surrealist Alfred Jarry.
Their 2013 schedule puts on three productions in three languages on three continents, including Jarry’s “Ubu Roi” produced in collaboration with legendary director Peter Brooks’ Parisian company Bouffes du Nord, while their Russian company performs Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Argentina and Chile.
Although critical response to this particular production has been mixed, the overwhelming consensus is that this is a company not to be missed. Catch them while you can — they’re only in town through Saturday.
Visit cap.ucla.edu or call (310) 825-2101.
Focus on Eötvös Week
The music cognoscenti are buzzing about Jacaranda (which made the Los Angeles Times Best of 2012 List), the Santa Monica-based concert series presenting world-renowned musicians in intimate performances of new and rarely-heard classical music.
Beginning Saturday, Jacaranda launches a week-long series in collaboration with Los Angeles Philharmonic, focused on Hungarian master composer/conductor Peter Eötvös and other Hungarian composers; and they’re outdoing themselves for this occasion.
Eötvös makes his only conducting appearance with Jacaranda, leading the U.S. premiere of his piece, “Schiller: Energiche Schoenheit,” co-commissioned for Jacaranda by L.A. music patrons David and Margaret Barry. It’s based on the 18th century Friedrich Schiller poem “Ode to Joy,” made famous in Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.”
The evening’s concert theme is “Fierce Beauty.” Inspired by the text’s “energetic beauty” Eötvös has written an explosive work for eight solo singers, eight solo wind players, two percussionists and amplified accordion.
The hand-picked vocal soloists of the Jacaranda Chamber Singers join the instrumental soloists of Jacaranda’s Chamber Ensemble under Eötvös’ baton. Each singer is paired with a wind or brass player.
In addition to anvils, steel drums and a wooden metronome, as well as a panoply of xylophones, gongs and log-drums, the composer’s elaborate percussion requirements for “Schiller” include newly-created instruments made from a hanging beam, and a large stone with hammer and chisels.
Music by fellow Hungarian Gyorgy Ligeti (who died in 2006) rounds out the program, with superstar Gloria Cheng performing his Piano Concerto and Eric Byers of the Calder Quartet performing the Ligeti Cello Sonata, among other early works.
The concert takes place Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 1220 Second St. Tickets and info at jacarandamusic.org or (213) 483-0216.
Making a virtue of hypocrisy
I’m looking forward to The Actors’ Gang reprise of Moliere’s classic comedy “Tartuffe.” Their original 2005 production was restaged in 2011 for the company’s 30th anniversary. It’s back for three performances only, Jan. 17, 18 and 19, before it goes on national tour.
Declared sacrilegious by the Catholic church and banned in 1664 by Louis XIV, “Tartuffe” triumphed over censorship to become a box office sensation in 1667. Its namesake is a con man posing as a religious sage; it’s still considered one of the funniest tomes ever written about moral hypocrisy. Located in Culver City, find out more at http://www.theactorsgang.com or call (310) 838-GANG (4264).
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.