Freud’s Last Session

By Mark St. GermainFreud's Last Session

Suggested by “The Question of God”

by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.

Directed by Tyler Marchant

At the Mercury Theater, Chicago

Riveting banter, spellbinding arguments, and wonderful acting make this “session”  worthy

“I wanted to learn how a man of your intellect could suddenly abandon truth and embrace an insidious lie.” – Freud

“There is a God and a man does not have to be an imbecile to believe in him.” – Lewis

Who would think that a two-person play about the existence of God would become a run-away hit off-Broadway spawning productions in Tokyo, Rio de Janerio, Singapore, Los Angles, Mexico City, and now in Chicago? But that is exactly what happened with Mark St. Germain’s smart, well-structured two-hander that features a fictitious meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis in September, 1939 on the day England declare war with Nazi Germany.

Freud's Last Session at the Mercury theatre

Freud called Lewis to his London apartment’s study (splendid set deigned by Brian Prather) on September 3, 1939. Lewis believes the meeting is to chastise him for satirizing Freud in a recent book but Freud has a much larger agenda.  Freud wants to know how a scholar such as Lewis could embrace such myths as the existence of God. Lewis holds that God exists from reasoning and faith. The two debate throughout the 85 minute play.

Using smartly structured set-ups and reversing retorts, Freud and Lewis debate with candor not only the existence of God but the nature of sex, dreams and the meaning of life. Mark H. Dold plays C.S. Lewis as a charming, laid-back intellectual respectful yet firm in his beliefs. Martin Rayner presents the dying 83 year-old Freud with spunk yet quite vulnerable to his oral cancer. Both are stimulated to verbal jousting as each must have their say and each needs to  speak to their core beliefs. Freud uses science and Lewis to intellectual faith to justify their beliefs.

Freud's Last Session at the mercury theatre

This drama is much more than an intellectual debate.  It is a deeply human and personally truthful portrait of two geniuses sparing to communicate. Each man honestly tells their stories that led to their intellectual advances. We see how Lewis’ conversion to Christianity  happened and where Freud’s science make him conclude that God is a hallucinatory delusion.  We see a young witty Lewis before all his literary fame and Freud as a dying man who uses his droll humor to hide his terror as death looms. The meeting grows urgent as war begins and Freud’s planned suicide is near.

What makes this polished work so compelling ,besides the powerfully smart banter, is the deep character development by Dold and Rayner. They bring Lewis and Freud to life as vulnerable humans. We understand and empathize with each. Playwright Mark St. German correctly presents both sides of  these grand questions of all-time. We leave understanding both sides of the God question.  But, ultimately Freud’s Last Session is as much a character study as it is a morality debate.  There is nay a dull moment in this superb show. I was riveted by every word and gesture. Mark H. Dold and Martin Rayner (both from the original cast) were spellbinding.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicaago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 26, 2012

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Freud’s Last Session page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call773-325-1700, www.mercurytheaterchicago.com, tickets $45 – $55, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 7 8 pm, Sundays at 1 & 5 pm, running time is 85 minutes without intermission, through June 3, 2012