Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Freud's Last Session

FREUD’S LAST SESSION a fascinating look at belief or lack of belief

The badge on my jacket says, “I’ve had a session with Freud!” Yes, that Freud…Sigmund. Wait, he’s dead. How did I have the session?

Sigmund Freud founded the discipline of psychoanalysis. His concepts centered on sexual drives, parental influences, transference, dream interpretation and unconscious desires. Known as an atheist, he was not without religion. He was an assimilated secular Jew.

C. S. Lewis was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist who wrote such works as The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia. At age 15 he declared himself an atheist. At 32 he returned to the Anglican Communion and fervently re-embraced God and Christianity.

What would have happened if these two men had met to discuss their conflicting ideas? To find out you need to see FREUD’S LAST SESSION, a two-character "what-if" play now on stage at New World Stages in New York.

It’s also where, if you happen to have been in the theatre on the day they were collecting donations for Broadway Fights Aids you could purchase the chance to try out Freud’s famous couch and get a picture with the great man himself. Well, a prop version of the sofa and his acting substitute.

The play is based on the best selling book The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. Playwright Mark St. Germain became intrigued with Freud's meeting with an unnamed Oxford don. Was this unnamed visitor really C.S. Lewis?

The setting: Freud’s study in his London house. It’s September 3, 1939, and, as the room’s radio informs us, the war between England and the fatherland is about to break out. As the two debate, air raid sirens wail and Freud, a life long smoker, is pain-ripped due to mouth cancer which requires him to wear an uncomfortable oral prosthesis.

Freud purported that those who believed in God were suffering from obsessional neurosis.

Lewis thought that human existence depended on the belief in a supreme being. A lively, contentious yet joke-filled debate takes place, and though they approach ideas quite differently, they find themselves bonding in ways they might not have expected.

Hanging over the end of the play is whether Freud will, as he has indicated, destroy himself before the cancer can do it. We do know, in fact, that two weeks after the date of the play, Freud, assisted by his doctor, did end his own life. This adds to the intrigue of the play as Freud tells Lewis that if Lewis is right about his belief in the afterlife, he can tell Freud about it in heaven, but if Freud is right, then neither of them will ever know the truth.

The 90-minute intermissionless production, which is mainly talk with little action, is excellent.

Tyler Marchant’s direction keeps the dialogue moving right along. Martin Rayner, not only looks like Freud, but he speaks with a slight Viennese accent, and is totally believable. Mark H. Dold makes C. S. Lewis very real. The duo play well off each other.

Brian Prather’s well-appointed set, a reproduction of Freud’s Vienna office, is finely detailed and makes for a perfect setting for the action.

Capsule judgement: FREUD’S LAST SESSION is fascinating theatre for anyone who is interested in a philosophical thought laced drama with laughter and fine acting.