Mark St. Germain’s Freud’s Last Session made a regional splash and I approached its NYC debut with a great deal of anticipation. It posits a meeting between Sigmund Freud (Martin Rayner), the father of modern psychology and a diehard atheist, and C.S. Lewis (Mark H. Dold), one of the most influential and respected Christian writers of the 20th Century.
Though it’s delivered with intelligence, wit, grace, and fine performances under the unobtrusive but nuanced direction of Tyler Marchant, the intellectual sparks such a meeting would seem to promise never quite materialize. I’m not sure if that’s because the drama of the meeting isn’t sufficient (nothing other than a desire to understand each other has motivated it) or because—I’m sorry to say it—in the end, Lewis’s arguments cannot catch fire, since the basis for religious faith is ultimately the absence of hard evidence, the belief that, for example (and as Lewis here asserts), entire sections of the Bible would not be so fragmentedly written, so structurally flawed in a literary sense, if they were not reporting the truth. His assertion is that a fiction, that “art” would perforce be neater. (To which Freud properly responds—I may be misphrasing a little, but the meaning is exact—“And so your proof of God is bad storytelling?”) The two men are impassioned, but Lewis’ foundation, in the crunch, seems built on air, which makes for an uneven debate…nor does the playwright mean for it to be so—he clearly intends the arguments on either side to be equally weighted. Nor do I think my own atheism is clouding my perception of the play, for paradoxically I yearn for a spirited and comprehensive “opposing” view.
Indeed, significantly—and ironically—there was far more convincing stuff for The God Side in a 2008 BBC occult series (six episodes) called Apparitions, about an exorcist priest, played by Martin Shaw—written by diehard atheist Joe Ahearne! (That series, incidentally, did make its way to the States, does exist on import DVD and is around and available via various Internet methods, straight ahead and roundabout.) And I do rather suspect that something’s amiss in Freud’s Last Session if non-believer Ahearne, writing a fiction, can deliver a better come-to-Jesus argument than St. Germain drawing upon C.S. Lewis.
Because, you see, where a dramatic work is concerned, it’s not so much whether you believe in real life…it’s whether you can suspend your disbelief for the sake of the story…Go to David Spencer's Profile