ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Freud's Last Session
The cast, under the continuing direction of Tyler Marchant, remains intact and perhaps is seen and heard in even sharper relief than previously reported by CurtainUp critic/editor Elyse Sommer (Original Review ). Martin Rayner is splendid as resolutely irreligious Freud whose worsening health finds him considering suicide. Mark H. Dold is equally on target as C. S. Lewis, the irrefutably smug yet impassionedly committed convert to Catholicism, famed as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. The audience seemed as engrossed as I at the clever way that Marchant has presided over this wittily and compassionately dramatized clash of personalities and ideologies.
Even if one goes to this play with a pre-conceived notion about which or whose side you are on, St. Germain presents the conditions and issues of their disputation on a very level playing field. As characterized, we could argue that Freud at 83 years old, seriously ill and ill-tempered is the more enviably mature practitioner of his convictions, and that Lewis, a former atheist and a war veteran, has somehow embraced religiosity less as a sublimely invoked revelation than as a form of familial rebellion. But even these observations become less fixed and more abstracted during the ensuing discourse.
While crediting The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. as a jumping off point, St. Germain offers an honest consideration of these commendably argumentative two men through their point-counterpoint debating. There are glimmers that even they are also unwittingly drawn to concede, although not in so many words, that the existence of God can not and probably never will be validated either by a metaphysical supposition or by a scientific hypothesis. The result of this is that everybody leaves believing exactly what they believed at the start, or not.
The play is set in Freud's London apartment where he now resides with his wife Martha and daughter Anna. It is 1939 and the Freuds have narrowly escaping Hitler's invasion and the occupation of Austria. Anna has caringly furnished his study to effectively duplicate the one he had in Vienna. This, of course, is the fine work of set designer Brian Prather who creates the carefully detailed environment that includes not only the obligatory desk and chairs, but also a great wall of books, a day-bed that may serve both doctor and patient and some oriental rugs. Not to be overlooked is Freud's collection of mythological figures and artifacts that curiously become a point for discussion.
Freud is critically ill with cancer. He listens apprehensively to the BBC broadcasts that bring increasingly dire reports of Hitler's movements and of England's inevitable response. The radio reports, a terrifying air raid during which they struggle to put on their gas masks, as well as a couple of telephone calls during Lewis's visit provide the only digressions from their talking. For a talky play there is nothing static about the dialogue or the behavior of these two highly opinionated characters. It is certainly amusing to listen to the challenges they make, each inflexible, each armed with his own arsenal of questions and answers.
That there is no loss of momentum during the play's 75 minutes in real time is a laudable accomplishment. The play's most unexpected turn has Lewis suddenly having to help Freud cope with a life-threatening emergency. Intractably analytical and yet amusingly conversational, Freud's Last Session, nevertheless, offers more than brainy talk; it offers bracing theater.