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David Oliver explores the dark side of characters

David Oliver, a Niagara Falls native, trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Oliver, 59, acts and directs, working frequently with companies such as Irish Classical Theater and Torn Space. As an actor, his roles tend to the extreme: He’s played the Marquis de Sade, Gregor Samsa (who becomes a cockroach), and Clove in Beckett’s Absurdist play, “Endgame.”

BeginningJan. 22, he plays Sigmund Freud in the Road Less Traveled production of “Freud’s Last Session.” The two-person play finds him debating with author C.S. Lewis about the existence of God. In his sonorous voice, Oliver was practicing his German accent as this interview commenced.

Question: Why these intense roles?

Answer: I “own” the fact that I’m known as being more into darker material. Surreal and extreme characters are more interesting, attractive and challenging. In the theater, we can look at things that we may not want to deal with in real life – heavier material.

Lately I’ve been watching (Showtime TV series) “Penny Dreadful.” Its fantasy element is extreme – I think about what it’s like to keep it real while playing something that out there. In “Freud,” though it’s not specifically called for, director Katie Mallinson adds a bit of surrealism. It’s played “real,” and it works nicely.

Q: How is it different playing a real person versus a fictional character?

A: They’re similar in how you personalize it. Facts are nice, but in the long run, it doesn’t make that much difference. You have a deep curiosity – you’re asking yourself what the character’s emotional life is like.

I’ve gotten a lot out of researching Freud. Vocally, I found one BBC recording of him; it’s about a minute-and-a-half long, and he’s explaining his life. Through viewing footage of him, I got a physical sense. Then of course, there is his writing, and what’s been written about him. That all gives you an idea of him mentally. After working on it for a couple of weeks, you feel a deeper connection.

Q. You have been doing this for a long time. Have you noticed any changes now that you’re turning 60?

A: When I was younger, I didn’t memorize the lines before starting rehearsal. That would just come naturally. Now, I do.

Q: At the stage in his life represented in the play – and in real life – Freud was diagnosed with inoperable oral cancer. What effect does that have?

A: Freud is being Freud even toward the end of his life. He was a bulldog. Yes, he has new obstacles to deal with; he’s still very driven. He eventually decided to kill himself, when he could no longer work.

This play takes place before he is at that point. He wanted to understand why C.S. Lewis holds on to his beliefs. He never let go of his fascination about people’s motivations.

Q: What do you hope the audience takes away from the play?

A: The discussion – essentially a disagreement about the meaning of life – takes place on the day that Britain declares war on Nazi Germany. Both men had lived through World War I; in the face of what’s about to happen, they ask themselves these questions. We all ask ourselves such things. How do we live in a war-ravaged world? Also, the show is really fascinating; humorous and entertaining. It’s an hour long, and touches on points that many can relate to.

Q: Why do you keep doing this?

A: It’s deeply satisfying. It’s also tough; I’m careful what I choose to do. It takes a lot of concentration. Acting and directing each take a different focus. Acting is more stressful, though it’s gratifying to know that you can still do it. When I read a play, I know very soon whether I want to be in it, direct it, or have nothing to do with it. When I read this, I said, “I think I’d like to play Freud.” And they let me.

Theater Preview

WHAT: “Freud’s Last Session”

WHERE: Road Less Traveled Productions, 500 Pearl St.

WHEN: Jan. 22-Feb. 14

TICKETS: $35

INFO: 629-3069 or roadlesstraveledproductions.org

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