“Freud's Last Session” Is Intellectually Intriguing
By Karen Isaacs
Mark St. Germain is a playwright with a history of writing intriguing, intellectual plays that often juxtapose historical characters. His Camping with Henry and Tom imagines the camping trip of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and President Warren Harding. Last year, TheaterWorks presented his Becoming Dr. Ruth.
Freud's Last Session, now at TheaterWorks through February 23, which had an extended run off-Broadway creates a meeting between Sigmund Freud and the philosopher/author C. S. Lewis. The setting is London in 1939 as war fever breaks out. Freud is soon to die of mouth cancer.
This meeting never occurred, but what if it had? As St. Germain imagines it the two men spar with each other. Freud was a devoted atheist. Lewis, had been one but developed a profound faith in God. He would go on to write scholarly works on medieval literature, philosophy and the popular Space Trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia.
The discussion or debate, as you might call it, ranges from topics of war (Britain is experiencing air raid drills), the Bible, religion, the existence of God and, of course, sex. But it is not always serious. Both men make some jokes including some about Freud's famed couch. Director Maxwell Williams made a conscious decision to keep either man from actually lying on it which was an interesting choice.
While neither man convinces the other, they both enjoy the intellectual sparring and have respect for the other's point of view.
Perhaps the most harrowing moments in what is mainly talk come as we see Lewis, who had been wounded in World War I, react to the air raid sirens and planes going overhead and as Freud nearly chokes due to his advancing cancer. Some of the latter scenes are discomforting for the audience, in part because of the intimacy of the TheaterWorks space.
Kenneth Tigar plays Freud as a man whose energy rallies in the presence of the younger man and the intellectual sparring. He enacts Freud as a human being; you will empathize with the man as he describes his last months in Vienna as the Nazis took over, and as he accepts his coming death. But at times the transitions seem abrupt.
Jonathan Crombie also bring humanity to the role of Lewis, who could easily appear too austere and priggish.
The set by Evan Adamson fills the stage with a credible replication of Freud's London office which was, itself, a copy of his Vienna office.
While you may wish for a little more heat in the discussion -- both men are very controlled and reasonable -- you will find the ideas and debate fascinating.
Freud's Last Session is at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St. in downtown Hartford, through Feb. 23. For tickets and information call 860-527-7838 or online at theaterworkshartford.org.
This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers February 12, 2014 and online at Zip06.com.