Interview: Howard Skora Returns For More FREUD ON COCAINE

Howard Skora’s Freud On Cocaine returns to the Whitefire Theater March 29th

By: Mar. 18, 2024
Interview: Howard Skora Returns For More FREUD ON COCAINE
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Interview: Howard Skora Returns For More FREUD ON COCAINE

Howard Skora’s Freud On Cocaine returns to the Whitefire Theater March 29, 2024, after a repeatedly extended run just last year. Playwright Howard also directs his cast of: Jonathan Slavin, Barry BriscoAaron LaPlanteMitch RosanderSara MaraffinoSigute Miller and Amy Smallman-Winston.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Howard!

You have already had a successful extended run of Freud on Cocaine at the Whitefire last September. What factored into bringing Freud back so soon?
We kept adding and selling out shows last year until the Whitefire had no more availability for us in 2023. Following discussions with the cast and Whitefire artistic director Bryan Rasmussen, we unanimously decided to return for a 2024 run. Our goal is to ensure that everyone who missed out on securing seats has the opportunity to experience the play. It’s such a fun ride, and we are really proud of the work.

Interview: Howard Skora Returns For More FREUD ON COCAINE What has the gestation period of Freud been?
I started writing “Freud” during COVID-19. I wrote about three drafts and had many readings before I felt it was ready to hit the stage. I developed the play with members of The Actor’s Gym, run by Bobby Moresco. Before COVID, The Actor’s Gym would meet at the Whitefire, but, thank god, we still did weekly meetings on Zoom during the pandemic.

What initially inspired you to write about Freud?
I was a psych major in college, and I took a course that only focused on Freud’s writings. I had read “The Cocaine Papers,” and it always fascinated me that Freud injected about a gram of cocaine daily and wrote pages and pages of poetic prose about it. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that most of his early work was clearly written under the influence of cocaine. A large percentage of the academic work about Freud minimizes and whitewashes his cocaine use in the early part of his career, but the more research I did, the more I realized how significant his addiction was.

Interview: Howard Skora Returns For More FREUD ON COCAINE Will audiences who have seen the September production notice any tweaks in the upcoming one?
We have a very interesting casting choice for the role of “The Narrator.” Both a cis-gendered man and a trans actress are playing the same role for this run. Mitch Rosander will be playing the narrator in four of the shows, and Natalie Nicole Dressel will be playing the same role on April 12 and April 19. Natalie jumped in for one of the shows last year, and she was so great that we wanted her to do some of the shows for this run as well.

Looks like most of the September cast will reprise their roles. How involved were you in the original casting of Freud?
I did most of the casting of the play by myself. The first cast member I picked was Aaron LaPlante. In 2019, I saw Aaron in a reading of “Die Hard” at Scripts Gone Wild at El Cid on Sunset. Alex Skuby, who has been in three of my plays, was playing John McClane (played in the movie by Bruce Willis), and Aaron, who I had never seen before, was reading Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), and he did such a brilliant reading of it, he practically channeled Alan Rickman. I was blown away and said to myself, “I have to put this guy in one of my plays.” It turned out that Freud’s best friend was the perfect role for him.
Interview: Howard Skora Returns For More FREUD ON COCAINE
Jonathan Slavin, who plays Freud, was the only person I didn't know before this production. “Freud on Cocaine” is a mixture of drama and comedy, and Jonathan had the perfect mix of comedy chops and serious acting skills. He nailed playing addiction and all the dysfunction that accompanies it. It’s a very demanding role, and Jonathan is on stage for almost every moment of the play. I feel so lucky to have him and all the amazing actors in this play.

Had you worked with any of the cast or creatives prior to the September Freud production?
Sara Marafino and Amy Smallman were in my 2022 play, “Gaslight House,” and they are both in The Actor’s Gym with me, as is Sigute Miller. All three of these actors helped me workshop both “Freud” and “Gaslight House.”

Interview: Howard Skora Returns For More FREUD ON COCAINE When I interviewed Jonathan Slavin last September, he told me his three-line-pitch of Freud was, “Freud on Cocaine is a comedic, genre-defying play about what happens when the founding father of psychoanalysis becomes a raging cocaine addict. It’s also, to quote the play itself: ‘… a love story; Freud’s love of his wife, Martha, his love of his best friend, Ernst, and his torrid love affair with cocaine.’” What would your three-line pitch be?
I have to admit Jonathan did a really good job here. So, everything Jonathan said…but I will add that “Freud on Cocaine” is about how the pharmaceutical companies at that time used skewed science on cocaine to seduce Freud into thinking it was “safe and effective” to cure morphine addiction and depression. It led to a ten-year dependence that almost destroyed his career, his marriage, and his life.

Did any audience responses for your September production take you by surprise?
Interview: Howard Skora Returns For More FREUD ON COCAINE What surprised me was how quiet the audience gets in the second act. The first act is flat-out comedy, but the second act is more dramatic and dark. Specifically, there is a fight between Freud and his wife, Martha, that shows the dynamics of addiction: the manipulation, deceit, and gaslighting inflicted by addicts upon those closest to them. You can hear a pin drop. And the women in the audience have a very visceral reaction. They talk to Martha and cheer her on when she stands up for herself, and you can hear gasps, jeers, and other audible disapproval of Freud's gaslighting. They hate Jonathan so much in that scene. That is not the reaction I expected…and I’m immensely proud of that scene.

Freud is your fourth world premiere with Whitefire. What cosmic forces originally brought you into the Whitefire universe?
IInterview: Howard Skora Returns For More FREUD ON COCAINE ’ve been involved with the Whitefire for many years now in that the Whitefire was the original home of The Actor’s Gym. So, Bryan came to me in 2013 when I was writing what turned out to be “Miserable with an Ocean View” and said, “You should put this up.” Four productions later, the rest is history.

Is there a new play percolating in your creative mind?
Yes. I don’t want to talk too much about it yet, but it’s based on a real case that went to the Supreme Court. I’ve interviewed many real-life characters from the case, and now I just have to finish the third act and make it as funny, dramatic, and real as possible before I’m ready to mount that one.

What’s in the near future for Howard Skora?
I’m going to Portland in April to hear a reading of “Freud” with another company. My dream is to have my plays run in other cities, like New York, San Francisco, London, and anywhere else I can think of. I just want to keep writing and producing work I am proud of. The plan is to have the new play up in 2025.

Thank you again, Howard! I look forward to being on Freud’s couch again.
For tickets to the live performances of Freud on Cocaine through May 3, 2024; click on the button below: