SECRETS: The Untold Story of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung

A New Drama by Broadway Producer Ken Wydro about the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. One Thousand letters were exchanged between these two Masterminds of psychological analysis. One Thousand letters. In six years. This play is based on those actual letters.< FIRST POST - Click on MAY under "Archives" >

Jun 26, 2006

After the readings were over . . .


by Ken Wydro

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day and the shortest night of the year. It is one day after the final reading of SECRETS, last night for a group of thirty or so members of the Knickerbocker Yacht Club of Great Neck, New York. This audience promised to be a tough and telling one. They were all seasoned and accomplished professionals, ranging from medical doctors to writers to owners of retail businesses and high level administrators. They would not hold anything back, and would speak their minds, one way or another.

I was more than a bit nervous, as the well dressed, animated group filed in. The cast of SECRETS and I had not had a rehearsal in nearly ten days. I had spent the entire day, until midnight, in a studio with Danny Tannenbaum, the 22 year old music prodigy who had improvised and composed the incidental music for SECRETS. Now it was time to record it and have it on CD in case we needed to send the script with the music to would-be investors, producers and directors. It was the ninth public presentation of the new drama about the intense, soul-searing relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung during the years 1907-1913. After the readings were over, attended by about 200 people all together, certain questions remained, certain issues unsettled, certain problems were clarified for the playwright to solve on the next step of sculpting the final script.

For the playwright, there is nothing more exciting or sobering than having the play on its feet in front of an audience, especially one that is composed of other playwrights, producers, directors and, in this case, analysts and psychiatrists. There is a rush of adrenaline plus a queasy trepidation as the actors read the words and express the emotions and feelings under the words. Just by sitting around the table reading the script, you don't get the "feel" of the play as you do when there is an audience in the seats.

You can tell from the back of the room what is working and what is not just by the body language of the audience, whether or not they are reading the program or looking at their watches. From the first staged readings in late February and early March to the last ones in late May and early June, 2006, only two or three scenes remained the same as first written. Twenty or more were revised, cut, expanded or re-positioned. More re-writes are still to come, but here is where we are right now.

The acid test came when I went to dinner down the block at Sylvia’s, the famous soul-food restaurant. When I walked into the private dining room, the members of the Knickerbocker Club began to applaud, catching me very off guard. I sat at two different tables during the mean, engaged in lively discussion. The verdict was uniformly positive and up beat. They enjoyed the performances, feeling that the acting performances were authentic, real and, most of all, touching. I was there for two hours in the restaurant, listening and discussing what the next steps could be. The people in this group were exactly the ones would buy tickets on Broadway, possibly be investors to the show. They seemed to get a kick out of being present so early in the game. It was extremely gratifying to work with the actors and to receive so much encouragement and positive feedback from the audience, but there is more work to do. Not finished yet. Everything, I believe, can and will get better from here. These are some of the points that were discussed at Sylvia’s with the Knickerbocker Yacht Club members


1. Why did Freud and Jung break up? What drove them to such a heart-wrenching and bitter "divorce?"

It is now clearer than ever that the focus or arc of this play follows the "courtship-honeymoon- divorce" pattern of most romances that do not work out in the end. In the early years of 1907 - 1909, both Freud and Jung put their best foot forward, seeing in each other what they thought they were missing and needed in life. They projected onto each other Mr. Right, the fantasy "other" who was what they always wanted and needed but did not have. The one to make your life thrilling, exciting and worthwhile for all the years to come.

The Perfect Partner who would complete their lives, and with whom they would live happily ever after. Each was ready to give to the other time, energy, effort, attention as they made plans for a glorious and fulfilling future.

As sometimes (often) happens, on the honeymoon, when they spent so much time together away from the routine business of everyday life --in this case the steam ship journey across the Atlantic ocean from Bremen, Germany to New York and back when they gave the now famous lectures at Clark University -- certain issues began to surface, suddenly, quite astonishingly, neither was for the other what they thought they would be. As focused in the dream sharing scenes, both caught a glimpse of the other side of each other -- the shadow side -- and the fantasy of the perfect "marriage" -- until-death-do-us-part variety -- began to get a hard dose of reality.

Once the illusion began to fade, the long, slow, painful divorce proceedings began. Each began to blame and shame each other for not doing or being what each was "supposed" to be or do. By the time the final papers arrived -- Freud's letter to Jung on January 3, 1913 -- there was no turning back, no reconciliation possible. What had been whole and complete was now broken and fractured beyond repair. Freud and Jung each had to pick themselves up, healing the scalding wounds and start all over again.

What had started out with so much passion, hope and desire for a long and happy association left both Freud and Jung deeply wounded and in dark depression. In this play, at least, the main reason Freud and Jung broke up was not primarily due to philosophical or theoretical differences. The main reason they were torn apart was INCOMPATIBLE COMPLEXES.

In the end, they could not get along. They could not deal with each other's issues, and they could not deal with their own. Freud had willingly accepted the role of Father -- wise, experienced, challenging, insightful -- and Jung has cast himself in the role of the anointed and chosen Son. Until he did not want to be told what to do, where to go, when to be good and obedient. Then, Carl Jung rebelled. He stood up against the Father in order to be his own man. He drove the breakup, for sure, compelled by an inner drive to be free, to be himself, to write his own script no matter what Daddy thought or felt.

Ironically, Freud and Jung played the Oedipus complex out on each other, with no one coming out as winner. Incompatible complexes -- that's why people go their separate ways. A universal story, isn't it?

That is what this play is really about -- why the greatest of romantic fantasies just do not work out in the end.

2. Why didn't you . . .?

The main problem for me as playwright was that there were mountains of material written on both Freud and Jung separately, and other material about what happened between the. The 1000 letters they wrote to each other, just for the start. The challenge is to edit, filter, and shape all that material into a two hour stage experience that somehow captures the passion and the pain that both endured while they were together.

The bottom line has become - at least for now - that this play is more about their personal interaction, not so much their intellectual and theoretical differences. Those matters of difference could have conceivably been worked out... "Fine, we agree to disagree, and still have lunch and a laugh at the bar when the lectures are done."

But the fact -- the historical fact -- that they hardly spoke to each other after early 1913 -- told me that the hard feelings were more personal. They seemed to me like partners in business who start out with such hope and ambition but once things begin to fall apart, they never want to see each other again. Maybe like a songwriting team, one composer, one lyricist who write a few great songs --Lennon and McCartney? -- and then, poof! - it's over, never the same again. Professional, or personal?

What is really going on here? That is what this play is becoming -- the behind the scenes events that bring people together, then break them up, almost beyond their control.

For those who ask, why didn't you . . .? I suggest that they write their own version of the Freud-Jung story. Certainly there is enough material for several plays/movies on the relationship.

The personal story, between 1907-1913, is what I choose to present. I will gladly leave other points of view to other writers.

3. Why did Emma Jung allow/tolerate the presence of Jung's mistress/partner, Toni Wolff, in her house for so many years? What was that all about?

Somehow Emma's words or spin do not tell the whole story, which is likely to remain a mystery now as then. In the final scene of SECRETS, Emma opens to tell the audience that "Toni Wolff did nor my husband what I nor anyone else could do for him during the terrible depression he suffered after the break up with Dr. Freud . . . You see, Carl never took anything FROM me to give to Toni, but the more he gave to Toni, the more he seemed to be able to give to me."

Emma Jung wrote those words near the end of her life, but did she mean them? What was she not saying but feeling after all those years?

It seems a historical fact that Carl Jung did successfully complete a kind of shamanic retrieval therapy when Toni Wolff, about fifteen years his junior, was at the Bergholzli clinic near Zurich. Toni was broken, almost catatonic, incommunicative when Jung somehow reached her, helped to put together some of the pieces in her soul so that when she recovered, at least became well enough to get discharged from the clinic, she channeled her love and energy to him. He became the apple of her eye, the one and only one for her -- remember Sondheim's PASSION on Broadway a decade or so ago?

Toni Wolff was brilliant, dynamic, emotionally charged as someone might be who had been to hell and back and lived to talk about it. Emma, as a well-bred, well-educated young woman from a wealthy Swiss industrial family, never descended into that dark, shadowy, frightening world. She has no reference for that deep kind of depression, so she was very much at a loss of what to do when she says Carl fall into that dark hole after the break up with Freud. No frame of reference.

It is a tribute to Emma's patience, stamina and deep trust of the healing nature of the universe that she stayed in the game while Carl apparently strayed from the straight and narrow. It is to her credit that Emma stayed true to the end, while also developing her own gift as an analyst, writer and keeper of the house.

What most people have said, about the character of Emma Jung and about the actresses who have played her (Maureen O'Malley and Morganne Davies), is that she comes through it all with flying colors. Especially in the monologues -- based on her own heartfelt letters to Freud and others -- Emma Jung was the solid rock, the wind beneath Carl's wings. Emma provides the emotion, the feminine touch in SECRETS, so badly needed as the two rams duke it out.

4. What is the relationship between a "secret" and a "complex?" How does a secret become a complex? In the play, Jung says that "secrets can make you sick." Freud replies, "More than that. Secrets can kill you. You can get away WITH a secret. You can't get away FROM it." What does the mean? How does it work in everyday life?

First of all, not many people know exactly what complex is, but most people know what a secret is. Both have to do with knowing, thinking or feeling something that you do not want to say or express out loud to anyone else.

In that way, a secret is something very private and personal, something you keep to yourself, thinking and believing that if you keep the secret hidden away from the outside world, everything will be allright. If no one finds out about the secret, all is well and fine.

What Freud and Jung discovered, almost at the same time in the early 1900s, was that when you push something down, out of sight, in the background of your mind, so to speak, it doesn't go away. The secrets, the feelings, the emotions go underground and get buried in the back of the mind, in what Freud and Jung would call the unconscious, or the "shadow" side of the psyche.

Once rooted in the unconscious, shadow side, the feelings gain power and force. They develop into what we would call to "issues" that a person carries within for a whole life long. Freud and Jung called these forces "complexes" and began to understand that the unconscious complexes could lead into addictions, repeated self-defeating patterns and even physical illness. How secrets become complexes and how those secret complexes influence and play out in our personal and professional lives is what the play SECRETS: The Sigmund Freud - Carl Jung Affair is all about.

Both Freud and Jung knew that therapy could not begin until they could get at the patient's secret, complex-ridden life. Only then could there be a cure. Unfortunately, both had their own secrets and complexes that they could not get over, Each triggered each other's complexes in such a way that the final break up was necessary and invitable for each to continue their pioneering work


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