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St. Louis by Richard Green

Freud's Last Session
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Also see Richard's reviews of Tuesdays with Morrie and The Trivia Job


Jim Butz and Barry Mulholland
Now, before you say I'm always beating up on the most prestigious theater company in town, let me remind you (in my own defense) that I loved the Rep's recent Clybourne Park, Venus in Fur, and Double Indemnity, and that I admired a couple of their other shows this year, too.

But, when it comes to "prestige theater," I can be anti-authoritarian at times. It goes back to my troubled childhood. I suppose I've always known I should see someone about it.

So I decided to kill two birds with one stone, and pay a visit to the Mount Olympus of local theater: the Rep, for their regional premiere of this 2009 show about the most famous psychoanalyst of them all, Sigmund Freud.

In the downstairs studio theater, Freud banters for one solid hour about the existence of God, with a nice young college professor who's caught his attention. (Surprise! It turns out to be whimsical Christian bestseller C.S. Lewis, before he went on to fame and fortune.) And then they banter about more stuff for another twenty minutes, thanks to Mark St. Germain's script, which is both obvious and exasperating. And then we all file out to our cars, on a lovely November night.

No wonder there's no intermission.

All the excitement at this long red light comes from witnessing the great man (played by the splendid Barry Mulholland) in the throes of anguish, every ten minutes or so, after a series of surgeries for oral cancer has left him with a crude metal insert where his upper palate used to be. (Sometimes a cigar is just a terrible way to die.) The final painful episode on stage is fairly gruesome.

And there's a loud air-raid siren too (it's London, during the Blitz). "Oh," I thought to myself, whiling away the hours as aircraft seemed to rumble over the studio theater, "it's the Tuskegee Airmen from upstairs, in the (comparatively dazzling) main-stage production of Fly, now passing in review" (through November 10, 2013).

Back downstairs, though, the always adorable Jim Butz is the young C.S. Lewis, who's come to call. His performance is playful and avuncular, and he inadvertently adds to the tension by sweating like a whore in church (in a sweater and a jacket) under sixty—count them—sixty blazing stage lights.

There's a lot of great precision and economy in the stage movement, because director Michael Evan Haney is no slouch. But, thanks to author St. Germain, it just amounts to a punishing revival of Grand Guignol, masquerading as—well, I'm not sure it's masquerading as anything, except maybe Tuesdays With Morrie, with foreign accents.

Through November 24, 2013, at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Arts, 130 Edgar Rd., on the campus of Webster University. For more information go to www.repstl.org.

Cast
Sigmund Freud: Barry Mulholland
C.S. Lewis: Jim Butz

Crew
Director: Michael Evan Haney
Scenic Designers: Peter and Margery Spack
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Eisloffel
Lighting Designer: James Sale
Sound Designer: Benjamin Marcum
Casting Director: Rich Cole
Stage Manager: Champe Leary


Photo: Eric Woolsey


-- Richard T. Green

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