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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Freud's Last Session
Pittsburgh Public Theater

Freud's Last Session
Jonathan Crombie and David Wohl
In this play Mark St. Germain depicts a meeting between author C.S. Lewis and Dr. Sigmund Freud that didn't really happen, but it is set on a specific date when something very real did happen—September 3, 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany. The tête-à-tête the playwright has conjured takes place at Freud's home in Hampstead, London, where he spent the last year of his life, having fled his homeland of Vienna in 1938. The room in which the play is set is a reproduction of Freud's office in London, which was a re-creation of his office in Vienna; Freud saw patients here and continued to write until close to the time he succumbed to cancer (September 23, 1939).

At the time of the play, Lewis was only 41 and was on his way to becoming known, not just as a popular novelist, but as a writer, lecturer and radio broadcaster on the subject of Christianity. Lewis was born in Ireland and spent his childhood raised in the Church of Ireland, though he became an atheist at age 15. In 1929, he returned to religion, in his words, "kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape," eventually becoming a member of the Church of England. Freud thought and wrote a lot about religion and its relationship to psychology; he was a Jewish atheist.

Lewis is, then, still settling into his religious life and Freud, at the end of his natural life, has a lot to say on the subject. We see Lewis (Jonathan Crombie) as open and questioning, and Freud (David Wohl) as firm yet curious. Germain has created a scenario that plays out in a compelling way, yet there are certainly no fireworks set off. (Interestingly, his most recent play, The Best of Enemies , has a setting of the—real this time—relationship between Ku Klux Klan member C.P. Ellis and civil rights organizer Ann Atwater.)

Running a lean 75 minutes, Freud's Last Session brings the two legends to life for a glimpse; personalities and perspectives are made clear without dictating. Wohl's Freud is gruff (and hearty, compared to actual photos of the doctor), yet he shows respect for Lewis; perhaps he is shown to be a bit softer than one might expect because of the state of the world at war, and because he knows death is near. Lewis, as portrayed by Crombie, is soft-spoken and respectful, yet not yielding. There is humor, whether that's part of the fiction or not, and one can't help but think Freud is psychoanalyzing Lewis throughout. As directed by Mary B. Robinson, our short visit to this historic day makes sense and sets up at least another 75 minutes of contemplation afterward.

Allen Moyer's set is truly phenomenal (and his costumes are equally authentic). The (impossibly) tall shelf of hundreds of books, and the early twentieth century furniture, telephone, radio, etc. create an impeccable and cozy setting, but it's the assortment of statues and other artwork that fight for our attention. One might feel comfortable lying on the couch and talking in such a cozy spot.

Freud's Last Session runs through April 1 at the O'Reilly Theater for Pittsburgh Public Theater. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.


Photo: Pittsburgh Public Theater


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-- Ann Miner



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