Reviewed by Judy Richter
Two of the 20th century's greatest intellects converse on Sept. 3, 1939, the day that Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany to begin World War II. As air raid sirens wail and British bombers roar overhead, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and author-professor C.S. Lewis meet in Freud's London study in "Freud's Last Session" by Mark St. Germain.
Presented by San Jose Repertory Theatre in a co-production with Arizona Theatre Company, this one-act, two-man play features J. Michael Flynn as Freud and Benjamin Evett as Lewis. Although the play clocks in at less than 90 minutes, it covers a range of philosophical territory focusing on the existence of God but delving into other topics such as love, sex and the meaning of life.
At first the 40-year-old Lewis doesn't know why the 83-year-old Freud wants to meet. Lewis assumes that it's because he recently satirized Freud. However, Freud explains that he wants to understand why Lewis, who was an atheist like Freud, has recently become a Christian. Hence much of their discussion focuses on religious ideas.
Along the way, both men talk about their upbringings, Freud as a Jew in Vienna and Lewis as a Protestant in England. Lewis also talks about his traumatic experiences as a soldier in World War I, while Freud explains that he moved to London because of Hitler's persecution of Jews in Vienna and elsewhere. His daughter Anna, who followed in her father's professional footsteps, is an unseen third character in the play.
Also figuring prominently in the drama is the fact that Freud is suffering from inoperable oral cancer and plans to end his life when he can't stand the pain anymore. Lewis tells him that suicide would be a selfish act, but as a matter of historical fact, Freud died only 20 days later from fatal doses of morphine.
Although the play is mostly all conversation on weighty subjects, it has some elements of humor. Director Stephen Wrentmore keeps the action flowing smoothly. The handsome set and complementary lighting are by Kent Dorsey, while the costumes are by Annie Smart. Sound designer Steve Schoenbeck deserves special praise for effects ranging from a barking dog to scary air raid sirens, overhead planes and snatches of radio speeches by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and King George VI.
Both actors in this Bay Area premiere are outstanding. Evett as Lewis goes through a range of emotions as the conversation veers from areas where he's comfortable to personal topics he'd rather not discuss. Flynn successfully masters the greater challenge in portraying Freud as a stooped, stiff, sometimes pain-wracked man whose mind and powers of observation remain sharp. It's a bravura performance in this talky, intellectual play about an imagined meeting.Return to Home Page