News Column

El Paso Times, Texas, Doug Pullen column

April 30, 2013

YellowBrix

April 30--Kathryn Smith-McGlynn, who co-founded El Paso's Frontera Repertory Theatre Company last year, likes to travel every year to New York to "see what's hot, what's on Broadway, what plays would be great to bring back."

She thinks she found one in "Freud's Last Session," which will kick off the fledgling company's new Concert Playreading series at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Philanthropy Theatre, next to the Plaza Theatre.

Tickets are $35, $25 and $15 for students at the Plaza box office and Ticketmaster.

The two-man play by Mark St. Germain, inspired by Armand S. Nicholl Jr.'s book "The Question of God," has been staged over the past couple of years in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

It's

set in 1939 and depicts a fictional meeting -- and sometimes heated discussion between -- the godfather of psychoanalysis, Austrian Sigmund Freud, and Irish-born poet, academic and "The Chronicles of Narnia" author C.S. Lewis. It takes place in Freud's London office.

"On the very day England enters World War II, Freud and Lewis clash on the existence of God, love, sex and the meaning of life -- only two weeks before Freud chooses to take his own," reads a description on the play's website, referring to Freud's suicide after a long struggle with mouth cancer.

Smith-McGlynn, who's directing, thought the play might "resonate with the community," especially because the subject of religion "is such a part of people's everyday

lives."

This battle of wits between the atheist Freud and Christian-convert Lewis could make some people uncomfortable at times. But the director hopes the fictionalized conversation will create a dialogue with viewers. In fact, Saturday's performance will be followed by a discussion between the director and cast, and audience members.

"I thought it would be interesting to mount something where you have an open discussion through ... an imaginary discussion between these two icons, to have this kind of dialogue started here on something that's a big part of people's lives, but a lot of people don't talk about," she said.

Unbeknownst to the play's director, fellow Frontera Rep co-founder, playwright Camilla Carr, had been thinking of staging "Freud's" here, too.

Carr is friends with actor Jac Alder, who played Freud in Dallas' Theatre 3 production of the drama, and he was interested in reprising the role here.

"She sent me the script and I said, 'This is the play,'" Smith-McGlynn said. "It was serendipitous."

Alder, founder and artistic director of Theatre 3, will play Freud in this production, opposite Tony Award-nominated New York actor Stephen Bogardus as C.S. Lewis.

It's called a "concert playreading" because the actors won't be sitting around reading from scripts. They'll have the scripts to refer to if they need them, but they'll be in costume and there will be a minimal set, including Freud's couch.

"What it does is allow the actors to have the script to fall back on if they need it, but to give the audience a real show, not just actors sitting in chairs like a couple of talking heads," said Smith-McGlynn, a veteran actor who is on UTEP's theater faculty and is married to Sean McGlynn, director of the city's Museums and Cultural Affairs Department.

Frontera Rep got its start last August with staged readings of a handful of plays at the El Paso Museum of Art during the Plaza Classic Film Festival.

The city's first theater company affiliated with the Actors' Equity union, Frontera Rep entered into a partnership with UTEP's theater department in the fall.

Its first full production was Emily Ackerman's post-war drama "ReEntry" staged in October at UTEP and Fort Bliss, part of the city's annual monthlong celebration of El Paso artist and author Tom Lea.

The company also performed scenes from Carr's play, "All About Bette: An Interlude with Bette Davis," a one-woman play she hopes to stage on Broadway. It was part of a fundraiser last October at UTEP.

Smith-McGlynn says Frontera Rep is planning its first full season in 2013-2014.

El Paso's Tom Lea Institute has commissioned Carr to write an original play about the artist and novelist, which will be performed in October at the Philanthropy as part of this year's Tom Lea Month festivities.

As part of its collaboration with UTEP, Smith-McGlynn will star as Hester Prynne in the theater department's fall production of "The Scarlet Letter," based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel.

The company may program something else in the winter, but will definitely stage Beth Henley's play "Abundance" at the Philanthropy in May 2014.

"She is committing to coming down here," Smith-McGlynn said of Henley, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of "Crimes of the Heart" and a member of Frontera Rep's advisory board.

The idea of staging some of its first presentations in the 200-seat Philanthropy, a former dance studio often used for intimate events, makes sense to the play's director.

Doug Pullen may be reached at dpullen@elpasotimes.com; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at elpasotimes.com/blogs. Follow him on Twitter @dougpullen and Facebook at facebook.com/dougpulleneptimes

___

(c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

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