|Martin Rayner and Mark H. Dold (r) in Freud's Last Session
Photo: Kevin Sprague
Freud’s Last Session is a riveting hypothetical conversation between two great thinkers, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. The former an atheist and the latter an atheist turned believer. It takes place on the eve of England’s entrance into World War II and just weeks before Freud’s death. The play by Mark St. Germain is based on the book “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life“ by Armand M. Nicholi Jr.
Freud is wonderfully played by Martin Rayner. His portrayal of the elderly and sickly Freud was multifaceted and ranged from quiet and introspective, to comedic, to cranky and angry. Freud is near the end of his life and is suffering with oral cancer. C.S. Lewis is well played by Mark H. Dold. His Lewis is endearing and always seems to be aiming to find common ground with Freud rather than the other way around. One might attribute this to the deference a younger man shows an older man; the two were separated in age by 43 years.
Mark H. Dold and Martin Rayner (r) in Freud's Last Session
Photo: Kevin Sprague
In Freud’s Last Session you are the fly on the wall. You witness an intimate and intellectually stimulating conversation about the existence of God, morality, sex and human nature. As engaging as this piece is, it is not a conventional play with character development, a plot arc or any kind of dramatic tension. I’m not saying it isn’t good; it’s a fascinating conversation. It makes you wish that those who debate such topics today could do so in a more congenial, less combative way. Though who’s to say if that truly would have been Lewis’s and Freud’s demeanor had they actually met.
Mark St. Germain’s script is economical and to the point. It runs 75 minutes and it’s filled with laughs that fit in well with the serious ideas being debated. My only complaint with Tylar Marchant’s direction of this piece is the unnecessary movement of the men, particularly Freud, from chair to chair. It doesn’t strike me as logical that a man as sick as Freud (this was three weeks before his death) would have been as mobile or as quick to move as our good doctor. It’s a minor complaint for a play that moves along at a natural pace with one point of conversation flowing into another with ease. Freud’s Last Session had me thoroughly rapt from start to finish.
Freud’s Last Session is currently playing at the Marjorie S. Deanne Little Theatre at the West Side YMCA, 10 West 64th St. between Central Park West and Broadway.