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? They may, in fact, have met as there is an illusion in Freud's records that he had an appointment with someone who may have been Lewis. If the duo met or not, we can eavesdrop in on playwright Mark St. Germain's concept of the interaction in FREUD'S LAST SESSION, a two-character "what-if" play now on stage at Actor's Summit.
The play is based on the best selling book The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.
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 Germany 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.
The script is filled with many insightful statements and questions that can excite or incite strong feelings. These include: "Satan is a brilliant creation," "Is there a moral law?" "Is shame a good thing?" "Are our deepest desires ever satisfied?" "The God of the Bible is a busybody." "Is the story of Christ the greatest myth of all time?" There is also the revelation that both Freud and Lewis had bad relationships with their fathers, which taught them "how not to be adults."
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 script 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.
Brian Zoldessy, last year's Cleveland Critics Circle and Times Theatre Tributes best actor winner for his portrayal of Larry Kramer in Ensemble's THE NORMAL HEART, is compelling as Freud. He inhabits the role to the degree that the viewer forgets s/he is in a theatre and is actually part of the conversation and partaking in the character's physical pain. His slight Austrian accent allows for the correct effect, without making understanding difficult.
Keith Stevens holds his own as C. S. Lewis. His English accent comes and goes, but he is consistent in developing Lewis's uptight moralistic attitude. His highlight is a scene in which he has a PTSD-type reaction to a radio command to put on of gas masks based on his horrific military battle experiences in World War I.
No credit is given in the program to whoever collected the numerous props on stage, but bravo to that person. Ditto for the set design which well illustrates the script's line of "One hundred colors around you." The rugs, Freud's famous psychoanalysts couch, and decorations all set the right mood.