Ever wonder what the famous Sigmund Freud, an atheist, would have to say to C.S. Lewis, an atheist who converted to Christianity? Although there is no record that the two ever met, Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain provides a glimpse into what might have transpired if they had. St. Germain’s play, which is the longest-running Off-Broadway play, makes its Atlanta premiere at Theatrical Outfit.
The play opens with the 83-year-old psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (David de Vries) awaiting the visit of author and Oxford professor C.S. Lewis (Andrew Benator). Wondering why he was invited by Freud, Lewis asks whether he took offense to one of his books. Freud responds, “You’ve written more than one?” And so, a face-off of quick wit between two great minds ensues. Freud and Lewis discuss views on life, death and religion and, at times, try to analyze each other’s belief system.
When thinking about a play that features only two characters for a single conversation, potential audience members might question whether the show will be boring or not. But those viewers who wisely give the show a chance will realize the show is far from boring. The play’s brief 80-minute duration sans intermission feels much shorter than it actually is. Director Jessica Phelps West has taken St. Germain’s brisk dialogue and effectively paced it in an engaging way. The actors move about the stage in a rhythm that’s hypnotizing as they question each other’s viewpoints.
In a striking transformation, de Vries becomes Freud. His mannerisms, movements and dialect are flawless. Suffering from oral cancer, Freud has trouble speaking at times. He also becomes quite animated when arguing his points, explaining, “My mood is ruled by my body.” Handling these moments with inspired intensity, de Vries delivers a compelling performance.
Complementing de Vries’ intensity, Benator’s portrayal of Lewis is calm, yet his voice grows with solid conviction when explaining his points. Benator possesses a charm that puts the audience at ease with some of the more contentious exchanges. However, as deep as the themes are in this play, there are many humorous moments in which Benator and de Vries excel.
With no scene changes, the play takes place in Freud’s office. Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay’s set is eye-catching. Accented with swirls and twists, the set’s background mirrors the cerebral thought of the play. Freud’s office is a cozy mini-museum full of Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts. As Freud himself explains, each time he takes a trip, he must find “new objects to love.” Scattered amongst his bookshelves, these relics complement his study. However, the use of rug piled onto rug to cover the floor is somewhat perplexing and gives the space a sense of awkwardness.
Freud and Lewis are two people who everyone coming to see this play will know something about beforehand. One of the play’s greatest achievements is that it shows that the two were normal people: they had doubts and they had fears. Although the show is essentially a debate, determining which character “won” is not the point, nor would it be easy to figure out. No matter what a person’s belief set is, the play will provide questions in which that person can look within himself for his own answers.
In addition to showcasing acting at its finest, Theatrical Outfit’s Freud’s Last Session offers the opportunity to be challenged and moved. Playing at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s, the show runs through November 6. For tickets and more information, please visit Theatrical Outfit’s website.
– A. Wesley