Review: Jane Werger’s production of Freud’s Last Session

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Published in Arthur, issue 8

When the Nazis were invited into Austria in 1938, Sigmund Freud reluctantly left Vienna for London. The 83-year-old Father of psychoanalysis was in no condition to move about freely. Since 1923, a cancer was eating through his mouth and his heart was slowly failing. But as the Gestapo threatened his family, the patriarch found a new home at 20 Maresfield Drive in London, his last residence before assisted suicide on September 23rd, 1939.

Freud’s famous couch and collection of antiquities from Vienna furnished his London study. The set of Jane Werger’s production of Freud’s Last Session, written by Mark St. Germain after a book by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi Jr., appeared a faithful rendition of the room at Maresfield Drive.

Fidelity to biographical truth is one of the play’s strongest qualities. The playwright’s titular “last session” is a fictional one, however: a meeting between Freud and the 41-year-old British author C.S. Lewis, three weeks before the former’s death.

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[Pictured] C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud

In this tale, Freud calls Lewis to his study for a friendly interrogation. Lewis, a former atheist and supporter of Freud’s theories, is a recent convert to Christianity. The older man, an empirical researcher to the bitter end, desired to question the younger about this transition. Werger is tasked with presenting us the fictional debate: Freud vs. Lewis, Science vs. Faith, Reason vs. Sensation.

But before the debate, we are introduced to Freud’s beloved Jo-Fi. During the last few years of his life, Freud grew attached to dogs, particularly this pet chow. The infamous dog, according to Louis Breger, would curl up at the foot of Freud’s couch during a patient’s session and arise as the indicator that the hour had concluded. Jo-Fi also performed other behaviours when the patient was or was not making progress.

Freud’s chow greets Lewis, not a real dog of course, but a bark over mounted speakers to the left and right of Werger’s stage. These speakers were further used for radio broadcasts about the Nazis and, in the middle of our characters’ intense debate, for a test of the air raid siren that sent Lewis and Freud into a panicked frenzy. Regardless of their differing views on God, St. Germain seems to suggest that the instinct to flee from sudden death is ontologically universal.

The chow emerges in discussion later on as well. Freud mentions that his mouth cancer has produced such an odor that even his much loved pet wants nothing to do with him. Thus the analyst lights a cigar, that cause of his cancer, and remarks that it is one of the few pleasures he last left. This was one of the few laughs in an otherwise serious discussion.

To question God and religion had been one of Freud’s preoccupations. The older man and the younger man debate about these topics quite well, although Freud would often get the better of the anxious Lewis. Wyatt Lamoureux as Freud, complete with German accent, and Michael Valliant-Saunders as Lewis, both provided wonderful deliveries of complex lines and arguments about the (non-)existence of God. At times the blocking felt a little forced, but to present two men in a room for an hour requires much movement, intensity, and humor to keep audiences’ attention.

Lamoureux, Valliant-Saunders, and Werger kept the audiences in good humor and on the edge of their seats, particularly during Freud’s bloody coughing fit near the end of the hour. As to the content of their debate, and an apparent solution or aporia about the (non-)existence of God, I found it to be less remarkable.

While completing two philosophy degrees, I’ve discovered that to question God is something I have little interest in. On the other hand, I overheard audience members speaking of their own religiosity, thus the play granted its spectators some critical observation and personal reflection. I would have preferred the play to further explore Freud’s essays on masculinity and what the psychoanalyst called a man’s “passive” and “feminine” attraction to other men. This session with Lewis may have been the perfect setting.

Whether God exists in His heaven or is a fiction created by our libido, the Peterborough Theatre Guild production of Freud’s Last Session was a success. If you missed it at the Theatre Guild’s venue, catch the play in a special performance at The Mount Community Centre on November 5th.

On October 30th, the Theatre Guild premieres their full-length production of Vern Thiessen’sVimy. The play runs until November 14th. http://www.theatreguild.org.

For Jane Werger’s production of Three Sisters read here: http://trentarthur.ca/review-of-jane-wergers-production-of-anton-chekhovs-three-sisters/

Battles on tour in support of La Di Da Di

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Published in Arthur, issue 6

Co-authored with Lyne Dwyer

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[Pictured] Battles

I saw Battles in the spring of 2007 at Lee’s Palace in Toronto. They were touring on the Atlas 12” single and, if my memory is correct, they opened with this song. I suspect many of us were familiar with the Battles EP’s but we weren’t ready for this new sound. As they wrapped up “Atlas”, we could barely bring our hands together to clap. This wasn’t the Battles we knew, and this was a very good thing.

Eight years later, Battles returned to Lee’s on October 1, 2015. Unlike the earlier show, the venue was certainly at capacity. The crowd was energized and surely more familiar with the two albums since Atlas: Mirrored (2007) and Gloss Drop (2011). The latest tour is in support La Di Da Di (2015). All albums were released on Warp Records.

Stylistically, Battles is a combination of experimental math-rock and dance-pop. They have described themselves as a group strongly interested in repetition and have emphasized the art of looping as the backbone of their work. Their music is an organized chaos, balancing the complicated interplay of Ian Williams (guitarist) and John Stainer (drummer) with Dave Konopka’s minimal aesthetic (guitarist).

The set featured mostly new material, likely because of the band’s commitment to musical progression. Additionally, all of Mirrored was written with Tyondai Braxton, who left the band amicably shortly after the album’s release and a few tours. The 2011 album also featured a number of guest artists and vocalists, so playing these tunes live – really live – is now impossible.

That being said, on October 1, Battles did play “Futura” and “Ice Cream” from Gloss Drop. Both these tunes have an “afro-pop” sound, to use the title of a Don Caballero song, Williams’s prior band. “Ice Cream”, the opening track and single, features Matias Aguayo on vocals. At the Lee’s show, with Aguayo’s pre-recorded vocals in Battles’s hands, “Ice Cream” became a remix of itself. “Atlas” worked in the same way, but the band exchanged Braxton’s vocals with a London-based school choir. This change added a whole new dimension to the tune. “Atlas” concluded the set and the crowd could not have been more pleased.

On to the new songs: Battles began their set with “Dot Com”, the seventh track from La Di Da Di. This opening tune served as a taste of the new sound and it provided hints of recognition of what the old fans could expect. The unexpected influence of Toronto’s Holy Fuck can certainly be heard in this song.

In addition to “Dot Com”, Battles played “FF Bada”, “Summer Simmer”, “Tricentennial”, and “Tyne Wear” from the new album. The title of a Battles piece often indicates something about the sound. “FF Bada” is one of the most math-rock-sounding tracks while “Summer Simmer” slowly transforms math-rock into a groovy dance, albeit with an abrasive synth during the chorus. On “Summer Simmer”, similar to other tracks, Williams rocks the guitar and the synth at the same time. This always makes for an outrageous sight.

“Tricentennial” immediately announces itself as a fanfare and is equally as short. The fanfare is not a line of trumpets, but Williams’s and Konopka’s synchronized guitars with brass-like effects. I watched the guitarists during the entire song – they never took their eyes off each other. As complicated as their music may be, the intense concentration for the math-rock/classic rock crossover is something I’ve never seen before. After “Tricentennial”, Battles calmed themselves down with “Tyne Wear”, a short, looping slow-jam complete with sleigh bells.

For an encore, Battles played the single from La Di Da Di, “The Yabba.” This tune undoubtedly shares Don Caballero’s fascination with technical rock. Williams and Konopka often write their guitar tracks separate from one another, thus when they reunite to create music, the result is a barrage of seemingly conflicting melodies and rhythms that eventually pair well together as the song progresses.

The body language and interplay of the band was entertaining and memorable. The anticipatory nature of the music and the emphasis on the multiple themes in each track lent itself well to a massive stage presence. Williams seemed to physically embody their use of polyrhythms and Stainer, likely due to the towering height of his signature crash symbol, was soaked head-to-toe in sweat, barely a half-hour into the night. His physical exertion did not rob him of his energy. While Konopka reserved himself physically, he was more eager to address the audience directly between songs, creating a level of involvement that cannot exist while they are at play.

The opening act, Buke and Gase, are also on tour with Battles. Their respective sounds complement each other well and, combined, both bands make for an aurally pleasurable evening.

What is the trans-pacific partnership?

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Published in Arthur, issue 6

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been in the works since 2010. Intensive debate took place at the end of September 2015 and continued until a deal was reached on October 5. The 12 countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, U.S., and Vietnam – will continue to review the details in the coming weeks and likely ratify the plurilateral agreement in the next few years.

Together, these 12 countries make up approximately 40% of the world’s gross domestic product, so this trade deal will have implications beyond the borders of the countries directly involved. Presuming the success of the agreement, other countries have now expressed interest in joining.  The conceit of the TPP is to better link the Americas to the Asia-Pacific region. The most significant aspect of the agreement is the elimination or reduction of tariffs within the signatory nations. For example, Japan is one of Canada’s best trade partners; the elimination of tariffs on industrial goods as well as agriculture will mean bigger profits for big Canadian businesses.

Prior to the TPP agreement, dairy farmers protested in Ottawa. The concern was lost profits and lost jobs. The deal, however, is manageable for Canadian dairy farmers. There was talk of allowing foreign dairy to take up 10% of the Canadian market, but the agreement proposed 3.25% instead and a compensation package of $4.3 billion for dairy farmers. The TPP will also allow Canadian dairy farmers easier access to new markets. According to some experts, however, the TPP won’t necessarily lower Canadian grocery prices.

There is larger concern for the automotive industry. Prior to the agreement, 60% of vehicles would need to come from countries within NAFTA. Now, only 40-45% of the parts need to come from TPP nations. Some believe this will result in a cut of up to 20,000 Canadian auto workers.  On the business side, the TPP will allow for “intracompany travel” and temporary work trips in various sectors including banking, engineering, architecture, and for environmental consultants. Within the TPP countries, telecommunications will get more rules and regulations in an effort to create fairness. There are also digital economy provisions that further aim to protect digital commerce, copyright, and intellectual property.

Stephen Harper’s government is happy with the deal. In an interview with Arthur, Michael Skinner, the Conservative MP candidate for Peterborough-Kawartha, noted the key feature of the agreement: further removing government from business. He believes that businesses can flourish with this new deal; with more profits, he said, more people will be hired and, the bigger businesses grow, the more taxes they will pay. He feels this is a “positive cycle.”  Skinner failed to mention the investor-state provisions of the TPP. Under the new agreement, corporations can sue governments over public policy and decision-making, in secret tribunals no less. In this “positive cycle,” money gained from corporate taxes goes back into the hands of corporations, as these claims can sometimes cost Canadians millions of dollars. For the Council of Canadians (CoC), this is one of the major points of contestation in the TPP.

A number of national and international individuals have also heavily criticized parts of the TPP, including the secretive aspects of the negotiations, the large scope of the agreement, and specific clauses deemed controversial.
While the trade agreement may benefit businesses, there are fewer rules about labour practices (despite some obvious ones such as no child labor and other workers’ rights) and environmental regulations. Further, it is no original observation that improving business profits usually just increases the wealth of the already wealthy. In Canada, jobs may be easily exported to cheaper labour in countries such as Peru and Vietnam.

Additionally, many have expressed concerns about patents and pharmaceuticals. On the U.S. side, intellectual property rights for new medicinal developments will result in more expensive medication. The CoC goes as far as to claim that the poorest countries within TPP itself will not be able to access new drugs. The TPP deal gives next-generation pharmaceuticals an eight-year patent, which, according to experts, will make medicines expensive for other countries. Five-year patents were recommended but not implemented.

For these reasons, among others, the NDP and Greens have taken a firm stance against the TPP. Dave Nickle (NDP MP candidate for Peterborough-Kawartha) bluntly stated in his Arthur interview that what we need is not “free trade,” but “fair trade.” On the other hand, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau supports “free trade”; he was reluctant to say whether he is for or against the agreement.

The agreement won’t be released until November 5. Many feel the document should have been released prior to the election. Until then, you can view the old chapters of the TPP via wikileaks.org.