BERGGASSE 19 - THE APARTMENTS OF SIGMUND FREUD was designed for the 2005 Melbourne International Arts Festival and had a sell-out season there. A large-scale spectacular work for two actors - Brian Lipson and Pamela Rabe. Early versions of the work were also performed at two Conferences of the Royal Australian and New Zealand Congress of Psychiatrists biennial meetings.
A Review of BERGASSE 19 - THE APARTMENTS OF SIGMUND FREUD by Alison Croggan for her blog Theatre Notes -
Brian Lipson's marvellous conceit, Berggasse 19 - The Apartments of Sigmund Freud, couldn't come from a more different place than Richard Maxwell. Here all is artifice and trickery, starting with the set, co-designed by Lipson and Hugh Wayland, which must be the most intricate I've seen outside puppetry.
The play is a riff on the psychoanalysis of Freud, drawing especially from The Interpretation of Dreams and (surely) Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. Berggasse 19 is the Vienna apartment where Freud lived until the rise of Fascism made him flee to London with his family.
The set is a cross section of the hallway: we see a bourgeois Viennese apartment from the early 1900s, with photographs on the walls, a pot plant, a dog asleep in front of a heater. To the right is the front porch, to the left the toilet. Underneath the floor is the cellar, the repository of the unconscious, full of forgotten junk: dolls, rocking horses, skeletons.
The endlessly ingenious set is as much as performer as the two actors, Lipson and Pamela Rabe. It is a kind of memory machine, a dreamlike representation of Freud himself, whose only other concrete appearance is as a dummy sitting on the toilet and reading a newspaper in a cloud of cigar smoke. The play is set in no particular time but, like memory itself, flashes back and forth from one time to another, and the set changes accordingly - the plant shoots neurotically up and down, photographs appear and vanish. Only the dog (a large stuffed puppet which the actors manipulate) slumbers unchangingly through everything, forcing the actors to step over him on the narrow stage.
The play mainly concerns itself with the women in Freud's life - his wife Martha, his sister in law Minna Bernays, with whom he is said to have had an affair, his daughter Anna, his analysand Emma Eckstein, who later herself became a psychoanalyst, Sabina Spielrein, another patient who became an analyst and who introduced psychonalysis to Russia - though there are guest appearances by Jung and the Kosher butcher who lives next door. All the characters are played interchangably by the two actors with no attention to gender, with some very snappy costume changes; sometimes the same character can be played by the two actors in the space of half a minute. Sometimes it is like a surreal version of Hinge and Brackett.
The text itself plays constantly on linguistic slippage, and is consequently full of appalling puns, small collisions of linguistic and theatrical realities, which are assembled and disassembled at an increasingly frenetic rate. When the actors ring the door bell, they make the appropriate noise - "brrring bring!" - to which the other character says, "bring what?" The initial conceit, which we accept - that the actor makes the noise of the bell - is immediately shattered by the other actor. This mantling and dismantling becomes more extreme as the shows continues; in the end, even the costume changes occur before us on stage.
However, underneath the linguistic and theatrical glitter move darker shadows, which become more insistent as the show progresses; the unconscious is, after all, a gruesome place. There is an eerily beautiful monologue by Anna Freud (Pamela Rabe) speaking as an illuminated face from a mirror while her bisected body - her upper body simply cut off, so we can see the bones and flesh of her thighs - sits primly on half a chair beneath her. The monologue is pre-recorded, exaggerating the dislocation, while the live face in the mirror creates a kind of counterpoint of expression to the words. And the play finishes with a scene between the new Aryan occupants of the house, now its Semitic occupants have fled.
The complexity of the show, and of the ideas behind it, didn't stop my 17-year-old son - who asked nervously beforehand what psychoanalysis was - from hugely enjoying it. As much as anything, its charm lies in the ebullient theatricality of the two performers and the (one assumes, very necessary) sharpness of the direction. Like the New York City Players, I'm not sure that I've seen anything like it. I would love to see it again, if only to pick up on what I missed the first time.
Alison's Festival Diary #6 Berggasse 19 - The Apartments of Sigmund Freud, written and designed by Brian Lipson, directed by Susie Dee, co-designed by Hugh Wayland, with Brian Lipson and Pamela Rabe, Grant Street Theatre.