It really doesn’t matter if Sigmund Freud actually met with Mr. C. S. Lewis in September of 1939 on the eve of World War II in his study located in Hampstead, London as playwright Mark St. Germain supposes, based on information found in “The Question of God’ by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. for his one act play entitled, “Freud’s Last Session” now playing at The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre on West 64th Street.
What matters is that the play is fascinating, extremely well written and has two superb actors – Martin Rayner (Freud) and Mark H. Dold (Lewis) playing intelligent cat and intelligent mouse with each other: debating the existence of God, death, war, sex, suicide, their past and hopefully future with sharp humor, sensitivity and empathy without ever tilting the scale in either direction. Never veering into caricature but making dignified and humane men out of them.
Neither man wants to concede to the other in this imagined meeting of the minds. Freud is in his eighties, suffering from oral cancer and contemplating suicide as he awaits the arrival of Mr. Lewis who is almost half his age and who has written a scathing, satirical take on the Dr. portraying him as a bombastic, impetuous, vain and ignorant old man.
Why a meeting at this point if indeed the meeting ever took place? It’s a moot point. What transpires makes it all worth while. Freud hasn’t read the piece in question but another and has invited this recent convert from atheism to theism into his cozy study (beautifully designed by Brian Prather) replete with volumes of books, oriental carpets, Roman, Greek, African and Egyptian artifacts, the all important couch for psychoanalysis and one very important vintage radio to debate their differences.
The radio essentially becomes a third character as it gives updates on the impending war, Hitler and plays classical music that Dr. Freud cannot bear to listen to which by the end of the play takes on a whole new meaning.
“Freud’s Last Session” is enhanced greatly by the subtle and detailed direction of Tyler Marchant. It is no wonder that this incredibly moving piece of theatre was so successful at The Barrington Stage Company and has thankfully been transferred to New York City intact. Running a compact 75 minutes the play is a thought provoking study of two highly intelligent men verbally sparring with each other, each wanting to win. Neither man does. It is the audience who comes out the winner.
www.FreudsLastSession.com Photo: Kevin Sprague