Here’s a recommendation for you: go see Freud’s Last Session at Theater J. It will be there through the end of June. Written by Mark St. Germain, it’s a 90 minute, one act portrayal of a 1939 meeting between an aging and ill Sigmund Freud and the young Oxford int.ellectual C.S. Lewis, a meeting that never actually took place. It’s a two actor play, with one set, and it is virtually all conversation. Sound boring? Not on your life.
Freud is in exile, living in London for shortly more than a year. It is September 1, 1939, the day Hitler invaded Poland, marking the official start of World War II. Freud is 83 years old and dying of throat cancer. His daughter Anna has faithfully replicated his Vienna study for him, with books and a massive desk covered with his collection of small statues of ancient deities. He keeps his ear tuned to the radio, he is in constant pain, but his mind continues to work and his many opinions remain unchanged.
For reasons only somewhat clear, Freud has invited C.S. Lewis, whom he has never met, to come to his study. Lewis believes that Freud wants to ball him out because Lewis, a young man of about 40, has written very critically of Freud, and particularly of Freud’s atheism, in a recent book. It turns out, though, that Freud has not read that book, although each author seems very familiar with the work, and the thinking of the other. Freud, it seems, wants to talk religion with Lewis, to see how a person of such obvious intelligence can hold to such immature views as a belief in God and a belief in the divinity of and power of Jesus. Lewis defends his position mightily (whether successfully or not, you will have to decide) and believes that the atheist Freud, deep down inside, really does believe.
Freud, child of an orthodox Jewish father, rejected not only his father’s religion, but his father himself. Lewis, son I believe of a Protestant minister, also rejected his father’s religion, and his father. But Freud, remained true to his rejection, while Lewis, years later, had an epiphany and became a true believer (which he remained his entire life).
As you can imagine, there is no resolution to their debate, but it is not at all a dry conversation. It is stimulating, clever, funny and rewarding.
A lot of this credit goes to the playwright, who has written such an approachable script. And of course much credit goes to the two actors, Rick Foucheux playing (and looking like) an aged Freud, and Todd Scofield, playing C.S. Lewis. Their acting, and their interacting, is magnificent. Foucheux looks like Freud and needs to show the bodily weakness caused by the cancer. (My only objection is that I thought his face looked a bit too healthy – it lacked the pallor of illness, and Freud was very ill by this time, actually dying three weeks later on the 23rd.) How much Scofield looks like C.S. Lewis, age 40, I don’t know, but also don’t care. He looked exactly like Lewis should have looked and sounded exactly like Lewis should have sounded. He made me smile with every line – the substance of the line didn’t matter.
Credit also to director Serge Seiden for putting together a performance that moved so well – the timing and the stage movements were just right. And the set was perfect.
I have talked to others who have seen the show. All agree. This is a show to see….