Freud's Last Session
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
January 19, 2011
Are you searching for an intellectually stimulating piece of theatre to get your mind off all of Broadway's big budget bonanzas? If so, consider heading to the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side Y (on 64th Street) for the return engagement of Freud’s Last Session, a brief yet impactful meditation on God and mortality with Dr. Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis.
Mark St. Germain’s play, which is suggested by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.’s book The Question of God, speculates that Freud and Lewis, then a professor at Oxford, perhaps met once, after Freud immigrated to England. There is no actual proof to this speculation, yet St. Germain was right that the idea could spark interesting drama.
The play is set on September 3, 1939, a few weeks before Freud’s death by suicide, as he is suffering from oral cancer. At the same time, Lewis is just beginning his career. He had not yet written his Narnia series, or any of his works on Christianity. If that date is familiar to anyone, it’s because that’s the day Britain and France declared war on Germany. And Freud and Lewis do indeed listen to King George VI’s speech, the one that is currently immortalized on screen by Colin Firth.
Playing Freud and Lewis are the dynamic twosome of Martin Rayner and Mark H. Dold. The chemistry between the actors is palpable and intense. Rayner elicits from the audience a hearty laugh just by answering the telephone, and a physically challenging moment between the two actors, involving Freud's prosthetic jaw, is heart-stopping. While the script itself is stronger and more substantial than several other "imagined meeting" plays of the same nature, the performances make invisible any shortcomings there might be in the material.
Tyler Marchant’s staging is so fast-paced that you don’t feel the time go by and Brian Prather’s set is stunning in how cramped it feels. While St. Germain’s script doesn’t necessarily illuminate anything new, it’s certainly well-balanced, thought-provoking, funny, and quite affecting. This little production, with no frills except intelligent, understated performances, is the perfect antidote to the Broadway spectacles that dominate the theatergoing consciousness.