By Katherine Fritz, Costume Designer for Freud’s Last Session
Let’s start off with a confession: I heard the plot synopsis for Freud’s Last Session and I thought “…. meh.”
Don’t get me wrong. When the Arden called to ask if I was interested in designing the costumes, I walked around with a giant grin on my face for a week and couldn’t stop hugging everyone who works there, because I’m just so excited to be back. I was an APA during the 2008/09 season, and the Arden was my first introduction to Philly. To design a show at the Arden was a pipe dream of mine that entire year; I still do a little happy dance before every design meeting. But the show itself? Two dudes sitting in a room talking philosophy and religion? ….. Meh.
But then I read the script.
It’s… not boring. It’s fascinating. I had somehow forgotten that the two dudes in question, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, are arguably two of the people you would most want to hear grapple with the meaning of life, God, sex, mortality, and humanity. It’s heavy stuff, but heartfelt, deeply touching, and at times incredibly funny.
As fate would have it, I was already scheduled to be in London for a few days this September. What I didn’t realize before booking those plane tickets was that the entire Freud house – right down to the study where our play takes place, including that infamous couch – is completely preserved as a museum and open to the public. If I thought I had come around to the play while I was still in Philadelphia, that was nothing compared to getting off the Tube, hiking up a steep hill through a quiet residential neighborhood, and suddenly finding myself at the robin’s-egg-blue front door through which such visitors as Salvador Dali, Virginia Woolf, and H.G. Wells had passed.
In our first design meeting, David Gordon, our set designer, flipped through photo after photo of the house interior, the large collection of antiquities, his large bookshelves, the oriental rugs, the curiosities and leather chairs. It’s nothing compared to walking through the door, turning a slight right, and staring down the famous couch where psychoanalysis was born. It’s a large room, but so filled with comfortable rugs and soft lighting that you feel immediately warm and cozy. It’s almost possible to forget that you are in a museum – despite the velvet rope cordoning off the main area of the study, you are free to wander about the house, discovering Dali sketches of Freud framed on the stair landing; peeking through the bedroom of his daughter Anna; sitting in the room that Freud once slept in, which now is host to a video projector showing some rare home movie footage of the Freuds at leisure. French doors open onto a beautiful garden, with nearly all of the plants the same ones, meticulously cared for, that Sigmund and Anna planted when they arrived at the house in 1938, fleeing from Naxi annexation of Vienna with all their personal effects in tow.
I spent about two hours there, soaking in everything, taking the occasional picture to bring back to the team who is working on recreating it in the Arcadia Theatre. I wish I could have stayed longer. Although I had spent days wandering through Kensington Palace and the Tower of London, this tiny house tucked on a quiet side street was the place I will remember most. I’m sure it’s just a product of me feeling incredibly fortunate – that I was able to step into a beautifully preserved historical site and then come back to work later that week, helping to recreate it for a Philadelphia audience.
I hope you get the chance to come around to Freud, like I did, and I hope you only have to travel as far as the Arden to do so. (Although if you ever are in London, I highly recommend taking the time to visit – the staff is super nice and helpful, and there are great restaurants and bookshops just a brief walk away). Taking that trip made me feel like I have the coolest job in the world. Nothing at all “meh” about that.