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A CurtainUp DC Review
Freud's Last Session
Dr. Sigmund Freud, the famous (and to some, infamous) Viennese psychiatrist and atheist engages in dueling banter with C. S. Lewis, a brilliant young academic who wrote about Christianity but is probably better known today for his book The Chronicles of Narnia. Their meeting at Freud's home in Hampstead, London on September 3, 1939, just as World War II is beginning, is fiction but Mark St. Germain's imaginary dialogue between the two intellectual giants is highly entertaining. Session is based on ideas presented in Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.'s book The Question of God.
Authentic audio clips of King George VI and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain speaking to the people of Britain via radio are chilling and so are the reactions of the two men. Freud, an immigrant to England from Nazi Austria, is philosophical about the sounds of air raid warnings outside the window while C. S. Lewis, haunted by his memories of serving in the trenches in World War I, is terrified. Against this historic and morally complex background their 80-minute dialogue covers such subjects as science, religion, sex and jokes. For those of us who relish word-play this is most pleasing. Neither convinces the other as they stick to their anti- and pro-religion stances. I'm not sure that the audience changes its pre-conceived notions of good and evil either.
Director Serge Seiden delivers a pitch-perfect production beginning with two very able actors — Rick Foucheux as the sardonic atheist Sigmund Freud and Todd Scofield as the serious believer in Christianity C. S. Lewis. Foucheux is charming and acerbic at the same time (not easy to do). Scofield stands his ground as a giant intellect who is very convincing in his lack of fear and abeyance to call the doctor selfish and an overbearing father. Lewis is compassionate too when Freud, who died of mouth cancer within three weeks of the date of the play, feels tortured by pain and bleeding. Both men get the accents right too (Viennese/German English for Freud; highly educated highbrow English English for Lewis.)
Scenic designer Deb Booth has created a mittel-European salon transported to London's tony neighborhood of Hampstead that is perfection with Oriental rugs, a couch, lots of chairs in various styles, and Freud's desk on which there are many artifacts. Dan Wagner's lighting is assured but subtle. Sound designer Eric Shimelonis's contribution of authentic radio broadcasts adds greatly to the sense of urgency and authenticity.
None of the arguments in Freud's Last Session are new but they are presented in such a way that you are reminded about their meaning.
Editor's Note: Curtainup has followed this two-hander since it premiered at Barrington Stage, where Mr. St. Germain is a valued regular presence. Their second stage is, in fact, named for him and will see a new play be him premiere this summer. Following, links to various reviews and an interview with the original actors.
Our review of the premiere in 2009
The initial run was so successful that Barrington Stage reprised it in 2010
Our Review of the Off-Broadway production
A review in Philadelphia
An Interview with the actors who created the role