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Freud’s Last Session – no high drama, but enjoyable for its light humour August 9, 2011

Posted by Alan Yu in Culture.
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There is no escaping the couch even, or perhaps especially, for Oxford don C. S. Lewis in the presence of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, although he does put up a vigorous fight in defence of Christianity.

Freud’s Last Session, a snapshot of an imaginary meeting between the two intellectual giants, takes place in Freud’s study on September 3rd, 1939, two weeks before his doctor pulls the plug on him at his request.

Such subject matter is prone to dramatic banality.  What saves it from such degeneration is Mark St. Germain’s witty script, which accords more humour to Freud than I can imagine him having in real life, despite his treatise on humour, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.  In response to his apology for being late, Freud quips: “If I wasn’t eighty-three I would say it doesn’t matter.”

The work is faithful to historical details.  Freud correctly points out that Lewis converted to Christianity on a ride in the sidecar of a motorbike driven by his brother, and doesn’t miss an opportunity to psychoanalyse: “…you’d wonder why someone would huddle in a sidecar rather than mount the motorbike,” he says. “The disappointing answer is that I can’t drive,” Lewis answers.

Freud is not one to give up.  Observing how Lewis rushes about when the air-raid siren sounds, he extracts intimate details about the impact of his experience in the First World War.  “When I heard the siren,” Lewis admits, “I was back there. The smell of explosives. Bodies all around me…”

Yet he nearly turns the table on Freud when he persistently questions him about his daughter Anna.  Freud is adept, however.  “What do you call a man whose desk is guarded by gods and goddesses?” Lewis asks. “A collector,” Freud shrewdly answers.

In a conversation between an avowed atheist and an intensely devout Christian, we can expect some heated arguments about religion.  Neither, it seems, has the upper hand.  “If you are right,” Freud says to Lewis, “you’ll be able to tell me so. But if I am right, neither of us will ever know.”  Despite the tension, the respect between the two never wanes.

Martin Rayner does a respectable job as Freud, an ascetic academic with vulnerabilities deserving of pity for persecution under the Nazis, now near the end of his life.  As cancer consumes his body, his mind rebels with cynicism and anger.  Rayner even bears some physical resemblance to Freud.

Mark H. Dold captures well the sensibility of Lewis as a compassionate, upright, and caring Christian, quite helpless though in the face of Freud’s suffering.  The story about him caring for the mother of a fellow soldier who died in battle, and his love for Joy Gresham is well known.  Douglas Gresham, his stepson, calls him “a great man”.  Next to Freud, a renowned scholar twice his age, he remains diffident.

Worthy of mention is Brian Prather’s set, which is elaborate in detail.  A floor to ceiling shelf on the back wall upstage filled with books, a couch draped in rugs, giant windows behind Freud’s desk letting in plenty of light, and the period radio all add to the coziness of the study.

Freud’s Last Session is no high drama, but intellectual jousting between two sensitive academics made all the more enjoyable for its light humour.  Director Tyler Marchant has done a sterling job.

Freud’s Last Session

The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater

New York

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