The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud

By Robert Wilson

Performed by Robert Wilson and The Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds

Premiered on December 18, 1969 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York

 

Wilson has said that this work is “not a historical but a poetic presentation of Freud’s life.”  The setting of each of the three acts meant to suggest the progression of his life: a sunny beach (Freud’s childhood) gave way to a grey Victorian sitting room (Freud’s middle years), which in turn gave way to a dark cave (Freud’s final years).

M. Sondak, the actor who played Freud, was a jeweler from Coney Island who bumped into Wilson in Grand Central Terminal.  So striking was his resemblance to the father of psychoanalysis that Wilson insisted he star in his new play.  Additionally, Liba Bayrack, the actress who played Freud’s wife, was Wilson’s grandmother.

Wilson would also make use of the various artists who passed through the Byrd Loft in Soho.  Both Jack Smith and Gordon Matta-Clark took part in this production, while Paul Thek came on board for Wilson’s next piece, Deafman Glance.  This is all part of the charm of Wilson’s early work with the Byrds: it was artists and non-artists, jewelers and grandmothers, common and eclectic New Yorkers, all working together in a theatrical spectacle that delivers its viewers to uncommon dreams or shared hallucinations.

Wilson has created one of the major stage works of the decade, based on an aesthetic quite different from…most of the current work of the theatrical avant-garde.
— Richard Foreman, The Village Voice, 1969
 Original poster advertising Wilson's  The Life and Death of Sigmund Freud  at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)

Original poster advertising Wilson's The Life and Death of Sigmund Freud at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)