After being on the road for a few years with Wicked, David de Vries has returned home to Atlanta. With memorable performances in the Alliance Theatre’s Carapace and Theatre in the Square’s Circle Mirror Transformation, in addition to guest spots on television shows like Drop Dead Diva, he’s been quite busy since his return.
Now, he is taking on one of the greatest mind’s in history by playing Sigmund Freud in Freud’s Last Session. Theatrical Outfit is presenting the Atlanta premiere of Mark St. Germain’s play, which continues a successful run Off-Broadway. Take a look as de Vries discusses his role in the play, Theatrical Outfit’s next production Red (which he is directing in February) and his experience with touring productions.
How did you become involved with Theatrical Outfit’s production of Freud’s Last Session?
I actually heard about the audition from a friend I was having breakfast with who was auditioning. But I thought, “I should really go up for that too.” I knew the book upon which the play is based because I used it in a grad school class I took last year in organizational ethics. So I understood the central premise. When I booked the show, I decided to see the off-Broadway production when I was working in NY recently.
What is the play’s premise and can you tell us about the characters?
The play is a fictitious meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis—two great intellects who have contrasting worldviews. Freud was an atheist, although he had an encyclopedic knowledge of many religious traditions. Lewis was an adult convert—an atheist who had a conversion to Roman Catholicism and has been one of the most articulate voices of the spiritualist point of view. Freud of course changed our perceptions of the human mind in staggering ways. It’s impossible to think of the drives and thought processes of a human being without factoring Freud’s essential ideas into the equation.
Have you been doing anything in particular to prepare for rehearsals?
Reading! Biographies of Freud and his own writing, which was voluminous. Paradise Lost (Freud loved Milton). He was a complex man—brilliant and prolific, but terribly flawed (as are we all).
Jessica Phelps West is directing the production. Have you worked with her in the past?
Jessica and I have worked together since the early eighties as actors and directors. I began my career at Theatrical Outfit, and Jessica and I both were in their production of Elizabeth I that was a big hit there. The first (and last) time Jess directed me was The Glass Menagerie at Theatre in the Square with Suzi Bass as Amanda. That was a great experience. It’s been too long of a hiatus, and I’m really looking forward to our collaboration in this piece.
Freud’s Last Session is a two-person show which requires you to be onstage for most of the show. Although you had several cast mates in Carapace, you were front and center for the entire play. Do you think that experience will help you in tackling this project?
I love the two-hander. I did Sleuth at the Alliance in 2007 and A Tuna Christmas at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2000 and I loved every minute of it. It’s the ultimate actor experience to me and not as lonely as a one-man show. Sometimes having a smaller role is harder. There’s less time to find the groove. When you’re out there the whole time, you begin to own the space and you start feeling more and more comfortable. Carapace was very challenging, and it certainly gave me the confidence to put the show on my shoulders and carry the weight. It was very gratifying, especially the opportunity of working with the great actors Judy Ivey cast.
Early next year you will be directing John Logan’s Red. What can audiences expect out of that production and why is Theatrical Outfit the right theater to produce its Atlanta premiere?
Red is a really exciting piece of theatre that packs a visceral and intellectual punch. It fits perfectly with Theatrical Outfit’s mission of producing “stories that stir the soul.” It asks big questions. How could it not when the very nature of art is one of the play’s focal points? But it’s more than that. This play touches our sense of loss and renewal and the costs on those who are compelled to create. I dare say it’s a love story because love is always involved in creation but not in any conventional sense of the term.
How did you get involved with Red and what aspect of directing the play are you most looking forward to?
It was serendipity—and social networking. I was back in Atlanta after having been gone for three years on tour, and I was just putting feelers out to let people know I was back in town. I saw Tom Key in the “add a friend” column on Facebook and just dropped a note with my friend request that I was back in town and would he keep me in mind for any upcoming projects. About two weeks later, Tom emailed me asking if I wanted to direct Red. Now that almost never happens, but I jumped at the chance. I had directed Sight Unseen at the Alliance fifteen years ago, which was also about the art business. I don’t know if that was a factor. The Outfit had asked me in the past to direct, but it never worked out because of scheduling. This time it finally did.
I guess I just really love putting all the elements of a show together. I like helping creative people do what they do—maybe even do it better. I love directing actors to flush out the subtle moments in a play. Collaborating with talented people is deeply satisfying.
You originated the role of Dr. Dillamond in the Second National Tour of Wicked. How did you become involved with the show?
I auditioned for Wicked in December of 2006. They wanted me to go to Los Angeles to open the L.A. company, but not as Dillamond. I turned it down. It wasn’t a good fit for me or my family at that time. So I forgot about it. I got a call from my agent exactly a year later asking me if I wanted to go to Chicago for four months to do the show, but they needed an answer in 24-hours. I was already booked in a show, and it was a terribly difficult decision to make. But, my circumstances had changed, and I felt like I couldn’t pass it up. Four months turned into three years. I ended up in L.A. after all for six months and then the Second National Tour for two years. It was an amazing experience, but I’m so glad to be home.
Many cast members have returned to their roles in Wicked after some time away, would you consider returning to Wicked?
I would certainly consider it—it’s one of the great jobs in theatre in a show that has become a cultural phenomenon. The touring can be great, going to places you would never dream of going. I got to see friends I might go years without seeing if I wasn’t working in their town. But touring has its price—especially if you have children. I missed my son terribly. But he got to come out and see some interesting places too, so that cloud had a silver lining.
You’ve done several projects in Atlanta after you were on the road for so long, how has that been? Is Atlanta home for you?
I was lucky enough to come back and do Carapace right away, which was just a sensational experience. I also had Circle Mirror Transformation lined up before I got home, so I plopped myself right back into the scene here. That has all been good. It’s been an adjustment not having continuous employment. Wicked was very good to me. Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. That part of my life feels much more perilous, but there are so many good things that have happened to me personally since I’ve been back. I don’t regret being home. And yes, though I have fought it at times and been gone for long stretches of time, Atlanta is home.
What play or musical have you seen recently that particularly moved you?
Into The Woods at the Alliance is such a beautiful work. I am continually astonished by Sondheim’s genius. There were times when his cleverness was almost overwhelming and I thought, “Come on! Really?” But it’s never JUST that. The heart of that play—about the perilous journey we all take into the woods of our little lives—is sweet, brutal, tragic and ultimately redemptive.
Great performances in Tree at Horizon too. Everyone was just top-notch.
Be sure to catch David on stage in Freud’s Last Session at Theatrical Outfit. The show begins previews on October 12 before its official opening night on October 15 and will play through November 6. For tickets and more information please visit Theatrical Outfit’s website.