If you ask Bridgehampton’s Harris Yulin about his partnership with fellow actor Stacy Keach, he’ll tell you that theirs is a long and enduring friendship — one that has spanned more than 50 years.
And, as you might expect, it all began with the stage.
“We first met in New York in ’67, because I remember I had gone to see him in ‘MacBird!’ a political rabble-rousing play based on ‘Macbeth,’” Yulin recalled in a recent phone interview. “The Macbeth character was LBJ, and Duncan was JFK. Stacy was the Macbeth character.
“We didn’t know each other, but then he came to my apartment to look at subletting it with his girlfriend. He had seen something I had done, and soon after we both found ourselves in ‘Coriolanus.’”
That 1968 production of Shakespeare’s tragedy at Yale Repertory Theater starred Keach in the title role, with Yulin playing Tullus Aufidius, his greatest enemy. But, make no mistake, that animosity was limited to the Bard’s plot twists. Offstage, Keach and Yulin quickly grew to be close friends.
“We were both great Shakespeare aficionados and loved classical theater like that,” Yulin said. “We were finding a lot of common ground.”
In the years that followed, the actors’ paths continued to cross, eventually encompassing both stage and screen. From the 1970 film “End of the Road,” and “Doc,” a 1971 western starring Keach as Doc Holliday and Yulin as Wyatt Earp, to a turn in the James Michener miniseries “Dynasty” in 1976 and in 2004, Arthur Miller’s final play “Finishing the Picture” at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, the two frequently found themselves co-starring in various productions.
“It seemed to keep happening. If someone would ask who should play so and so, he would say me, and I would say him,” Yulin said.
Now that Yulin and Keach are 84 and 80, respectively, their partnership has transformed into something of a collaboration, and in recent years has encompassed theatrical projects that they have created on their own.
The most current of these is “Vienna,” a two-character play written by Jim McGrath — with the help and input of Yulin and Keach — that explores the long and complex relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Yulin plays Freud and Keach portrays Jung in the Zoom-based production, which will begin airing on YouTube on the Sunday, November 28, and can be seen for four days until Wednesday, December 1.
The title of the play references the Austrian city where Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, lived and did his ground-breaking work.
The relationship between he and Jung began when Jung, who was 20 years his junior, sent his writings to Freud. Two years later, in 1907, Freud and Jung met in Vienna. At their first meeting, they talked about their field of study for 13 hours.
The two men bonded quickly and Jung became something of a protégé to Freud. But eventually, their relationship soured over professional (and at times, personal) issues.
“The play starts with their first meeting in 1907, when Jung comes to Freud’s house in Vienna, and it goes through their breakup and deals with them both individually,” explained Yulin. “It deals with the last 25 years of Freud’s life.”
When asked what he knew about Freud when he came to the project, Yulin admits he didn’t know a lot. “I played him in Christopher Hampton’s play ‘The Talking Cure’ at the Mark Taper Playhouse,” Yulin said. “That was about 20 years ago. I didn’t know that much about him, but of course, as soon as we decided to do this, all three of us started reading and finding out as much as we could in the time allowed. Certain questions would come up in the course of working on it. We met two or three times a week, would take a couple days to look at stuff, and then we’d come up with answers.”
As is typical in this new world created by pandemic, Yulin, Keach and McGrath all worked from afar, collaborating remotely on Zoom calls with Yulin in Bridgehampton, McGrath in Los Angeles, and Keach in Poland, where he lives part of the year with his wife, Malgosia Tomassi, who is a native of Poland.
“We had to negotiate a lot of time zones,” said Yulin.
In taking a deep dive into the writings detailing the relationship between Freud and Jung, Yulin notes that he and his playwriting collaborators could recognize hints of the early rifts that would eventually lead to the pair’s parting.
“Freud was a mentor, and Jung, when he first came to him, worshiped him and was in his thrall. But when looking at the story, you could see their split coming for a while,” Yulin explained. “One area where Jung differed from Freud was in the unconscious. In Freud’s theory, he thought the unconscious was the central tenant, and he wasn’t happy about Jung’s dissension. But Jung was firm about it and tried to bend to accommodate him.”
The division eventually turned personal, however, and Yulin explained that Freud eventually accused Jung of being psychoanalyzed by his young lovers.
“It’s not unlike a parent-and-child relationship,” he said of Jung’s move away from Freud to pursue his own theories of psychoanalysis. “You want them to have their own identity and thoughts — but, then, you don’t.”
As a theatrical piece, “Vienna” was created on Zoom with the two actors in their own homes using green screen technology to depict the various backgrounds.
“Stacy was the ostensible director. He’s the one who worked with the technical people,” said Yulin, who envisions eventually bringing “Vienna” to the stage with Keach. “We’re always looking for something. We went over 50 possibilities before we came to Jung and Freud. I think it has a lot of potential.
“We’re trying to find that time, when the world seems to right itself again and open those possibilities.”
“Vienna,” created by Stacy Keach Zoom Theater (SKZ) begins airing on YouTube on Sunday, November 28, and will be available through Wednesday, December 1. Admission is free. Donations are welcome to benefit The Actors Fund of America. To access the production, visit stacykeachzoomtheater.com.