BWW Reviews: Theater J's Thought-Provoking FREUD'S LAST SESSION
Theater J has gained a reputation for producing theatrical works that address society's most contemporary and controversial issues in a manner that is intelligent and inviting. We saw that earlier this season with: The Argument which explored the human side of the abortion debate and Golda's Balcony in which one leader contemplated the use of nuclear weapons. Now Theater J's thought-provoking production of Freud's Last Session seeks to explore humanity's most perplexing question: the existence of God.
Freud's Last Session features a fictitious meeting between the eminent psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Rick Foucheux) and famed literary scholar and author C.S. Lewis (Todd Scofield). Set on September 1, 1939, the very day England would enter the Second World War, Freud and Lewis find themselves debating and exchanging ideas on: the actuality of God, Christianity, a moral conscience, psychoanalysis, suffering and sex. Anyone who's ever struggled with their faith or challenged the idea of an almighty deity will find much to enjoy with Freud's Last Session.
Playwright Mark St. Germain's script brilliantly structures Freud and Lewis' debate about religion on multiple emotional layers. From a societal perspective, the start of World War II allows Freud to challenge the existence of a merciful God in the midst of so much death. Freud's Last Session also grants us insight into the experiences which led these men to their beliefs. Personally, we see Freud as he angrily questions a God that could take life at a young age, as was the case with the death of his five year old grandson.
Foucheux and Scofield give marvelous performances as Freud and Lewis. Their onstage chemistry brings Freud's Last Session to life, giving it the feeling of a great intellectual tennis match. Serge Seiden's direction enhances this feeling by having the men pace Debra Booth's scholarly set, as if they are two lions circling each other.
Foucheux, who was excellent earlier this session in Sudio Theatre's The Apple Family Plays, gives Freud a crusty curiosity of a man nearing life's end and yet unfulfilled to have not answered the question of God's existence. Beyond that cynical exterior though is a man suffering from oral cancer. In that pain Foucheux movingly reveals Freud's vulnerability. Freud's exchanges with Lewis may not provide relief from the cancer but they do comfort him by allowing his academic inquisitiveness to thrive.
Scofield's Lewis is multidimensional. When he first arrives at Freud's study there's a shy hesitancy on his part. He is wondering what the renowned Freud wants from a literary scholar like him. When Lewis finally eases into conversation, Scofield then makes him more aggressive in his questioning and approachable in his responses.
St. Germain provides Freud's Last Session with two very gripping moments which reveal the character of each man and their mutual respect for each other. These moments also help to give a reprieve from some of the play's heavier philosophical discussions. It's rewarding thought to watch two men who don't allow their ideological disagreements to dictate their relationship.
Booth deserves recognition for her detailed recreation of Freud's office complete with Oriental rug covered fainting couch, library shelves of well-worn books, collection of Freud family photos and compilation of mythical god statues covering Freud's desk. The antique telephone and radio, along with the statically replay of Neville Chamberlain Declaration of War bring alive London in 1939.
If the play has any flaws it's that some points tend to linger a bit too long and risk becoming tedious. But isn't that human nature when two people debate? It's unclear if St. Germain was simply being true to his subjects or in need of an editor.
Those looking for answers will be frustrated by Freud's Last Session. Then again it would be foolish to assume that an 80 minute play could answer why we suffer or if there is a God. What Freud's Last Session does do is raise questions that challenge us. Coincidentally, it is also what Theater J does best!
Runtime is 80 minutes with no intermission.
Photo: Rick Foucheux as Freud in Freud's Last Session at Theater J. Credit: Stan Barouh.