Riverside Theatre chose an intriguing time to mount its handsome and exquisitely well-performed production of Mark St. Germain’s play, Freud’s Last Session. Indeed, opening it between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, a time that challenges the Christian faithful to relinquish rational thought for spiritual belief, mirrors the drama’s lingering questions about faith.
Mr. St. Germain, an award-winning playwright, devises the notion that three weeks before his death, famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud met with Oxford University scholar C.S. Lewis, an avowed Christian and author of The Chronicles of Narnia. The two quickly launch into a discussion about God, irony, war, sexuality, literature and all points in between…even the humor of flatulence.
The long one-act play is set in Freud’s study in Hampstead, a northern suburb of London, on the day England declares war on Germany (Sept. 3, 1939). Rallying speeches are heard on the radio and overhead come the rafter-shaking sounds of large war planes. The ominous sounds compress the men’s conversation into moments laden with intellect and urgency. Accelerating it even further is the fact that Freud, who is suffering from oral cancer, has sudden fits of coughing and intense pain.
While Freud regards religion as being filled with fantasy about a cruel god, he has nevertheless asked Lewis to visit him to talk about faith. We wonder, does Freud want to be suddenly converted into a believer or does he want confirmation that he has been right all his life? It is sticky question, and one that will stay with you as you watch this fascinating play unfold and as you experience two expertly drawn portrayals of men so different in their philosophy but so alike in their human hearts.