Freud's Last Session
We know, for certain, that Freud had moved to England and did meet with a certain individual on a given day. Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. has written a book called "The Question of God." St. Germain has evidently referenced that work and has crafted an excellent script which is both stimulating and highly intriguing. The play focuses upon the suggestion that Freud's visitor might well have been Lewis.
Directed with precision by Tyler Marchant, the seventy-five minute encounter occurs in Freud's study. Designer Brian Prather furnishes rear wall bookcases filled with many handsome volumes. The desk and other trappings in the room are wooden and dark.
Freud has mouth cancer, is dealing with a troublesome prosthesis, and has already mapped out plans for his suicide. Rayner plays Freud, at 83, as a man still vibrant and argumentative. Lewis, 41, had published "Pilgrim's Progress," a book which is unflattering to Freud. Lewis, formerly an atheist, is now a believer in a deity; Freud is not. At one point, Lewis says, of God, "If pleasure is his whisper, pain is his megaphone." Freud's response: "So cancer is god's voice. If I tell him today I believe, my tumor would rejoice and vanish."
There are moments when Freud has significant physical pain and Lewis demonstrates genuine concern for the older man's welfare. The men are adversaries but the younger is clearly respectful. Both actors give sustaining, specific performances throughout.
Freud, from time to time, turns his radio on, anxious to hear if Hitler's army will strike. He thinks of potential survival but it is now his own which is pivotal. Freud has come to terms with his imminent death and is impatient.
Lewis is depicted as one who is unafraid to debate the great psychiatrist about religion, sex and the value of living. Lewis' character, though, is multi-dimensional. He cares about Sigmund Freud, realizing the man's days are few.
St. Germain's writing is tight and provocative. The action begins as a BBC voice, through Freud's radio, speaks of Hitler's wartime escalation. Freud's dog barks and the great man sees that C.S. Lewis is at the door. Freud wears a brown, tweed suit and Lewis looks dapper in light sport coat and vest. Soon, these men, outfitted perfectly by Mark Mariani, move from discussion of the dog, Jo-Fi, to Lewis' satirical commentary about Freud. The entree is complete and the next hour is filled with sharp back-and-forth exchange.
Freud's Last Session possesses material for prolonged discussion beyond the final curtain. It does so without pontification, without overstatement. Instead, St. Germain's adept dialogue writing brings us two men with divergent views. Could they ever have been friends? One leaves the theater feeling thoughtfully challenged.
Freud's Last Sessioncontinues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through October 4th. For tickets, call the box office at (413) 236-8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org.
- Fred Sokol