We gave it a B+
Unless you’re a fan of psychoanalysis or The Chronicles of Narnia, watching Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis argue about the existence of God probably sounds about as appealing as, well, an hour of psychoanalysis. But Freud’s Last Session — which recently moved to Off Broadway’s New World Stages after 15 months at the West Side YMCA’s Little Theater — is spirited, witty, and eminently engaging, no matter your extracurricular interests.
Taking inspiration from Dr. Armand S. Nicholi Jr.’s 2003 book The Question of God, playwright Mark St. Germain sets his fictional meeting of the minds in Freud’s London office on Sept. 3, 1939. The nonbelieving analyst (a mischievously funny Martin Rayner), age 83, is just a few weeks away from dying of oral cancer; atheist-turned-Anglican Lewis (Mark H. Dold, appropriately endearing and indignant), then a 40-year-old Oxford professor, is still a decade from beginning Narnia. And Britain has just declared war on Germany.
Bringing these two historical figures together is a clever dramatic construct, but doing it on that particular day is rather ingenious. Everyone loves a feisty debate, but can you imagine a solid hour and a half of theological theorizing? A snippet of the prime minister’s radio address provides a bit of a break from a just-begun-but-already-intense discussion about the Catholic Church. (And note on which side Neville Chamberlain falls: ”May God bless you all. May He defend the right.”)
In addition to providing declarations of their respective beliefs, St. Germain deftly weaves in assorted biographical tidbits: We hear about Freud’s daughter Anna, the only person allowed to touch his prosthesis (uh-huh!); Lewis’ friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien; the ancient artifacts positioned on Freud’s desk; the cancer that’s killing him; and the pair’s stance on suicide. It’s a lot to pack into 90 minutes, but it’s neatly done. The production is, however, not without an extraneous detail or two. Personally, I never need to see another bloody dental prosthesis pulled out of anyone’s mouth on stage. B+
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)