Off-Broadway Theater Review: FREUD’S LAST SESSION (Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater)

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by Eve Meadows on August 25, 2011

in Theater-New York

A CLASH OF THE MINDS

Mark St. Germain based his play Freud’s Last Session on a book by Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. entitled The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex and The Meaning of Life. All of the weighty issues in the book’s title are skillfully investigated and cleverly disputed in this imaginary 1939 meeting between the then 80 year old Sigmund Freud and the younger intellectual C.S. Lewis (later to author The Chronicles of Narnia). The play has been running for over a year now in New York City, and won the Alliance Award for Best New Play Off-Broadway. The show has received quite a bit of praise, but, even with its fascinating ideology and a wonderful performance by Martin Rayner, this reviewer had issues with the script’s didacticism and longed for C.S. Lewis to be a fully fleshed-out character.

Freud's Last Session Any young person who witnesses this battle of ideas will undoubtedly have their thinking stimulated and their powers of reasoning sharpened, but the play has one great drawback: there is almost no emotional connection between the two intellectual forces on stage. The situation is arbitrarily constructed in order to create a platform of ideas. At no time are we nudged into a greater awareness of our common vulnerability and humanity, nor are we made aware of the motivations behind the big ideas or their espousal.

Lulled by the play’s rhythmic banter, it would be easy for anyone to nod off were it not for the marvelous performance of Mr. Rayner as Sigmund Freud.  The work he does is intricate, layered, and compelling, yet he never loses the arrogant, opinionated, even somewhat tyrannical stance associated with Freud.  His physical suffering is palpable enough that we believe him to be near death. Would that the writer had allowed C.S. Lewis to feel Freud’s pain, and therefore become engaged on a deeper level.  If he had not been so fixed on arguments against suicide that no room was left in his heart to take on his opponent’s suffering, then they could have faced mortality – that inevitable and universal finale – together. But the play ends on a speculative note rather than a transcendental one. Freud’s Last Session is overly wordy and dependent on pure logic rather than on a combination of thought and feeling.

Standby Tuck Milligan performed as C.S. Lewis at the matinee this reviewer attended. He depicted the manners of a gentleman of his time, but not the character of someone with the sensitivity or depth necessary to a future of great artistic accomplishment. He does not seem a worthy opponent to Freud.  Neither does Milligan display awe toward this world famous figure, nor a sense of being threatened by him in any way.  This seems implausible.

Director Tyler Marchant assembled a most impressive design team – set by Brian Prather, music by Beth Lake and lighting by Clifton Taylor.  But ultimately, one gets drawn into the play by the way in which Freud’s pain and demise are so exquisitely shaped by Mr. Rayner.

evemeadows @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Kevin Sprague

Freud’s Last Session
sceduled to close on July 22, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.FreudsLastSession.com or call 212-352-3101

{ 1 comment }

Mk December 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Wow!!! Eve missed the mark totally, no emotional connection between the characters??? Duh! This is a play that has more emotional connections than any syrupy musical I have ever seen… This play is all about provoking thought.

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