Monday, January 27, 2014

Theater Review: Freud's Last Session -- TheaterWorks

Kenneth Tigar and Jonathan Crombie. Photo: Lanny Nagler
In the Face of Death, Sigmund Freud, C.S. Lewis Debate the Greatest Question in Life
By Lauren Yarger
How can a person with keen intelligence believe in a God that can’t be proven?

For Dr. Sigmund Freud (Kenneth Tigar), the answer is obvious. He can’t. So how did one of the most brilliant of his contemporaries, C.S. Lewis (Jonathan Crombie), abandon all reason and come to believe in God and in Jesus Christ as his son to boot?

The question is at the center of Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain, getting a run at TheatreWorks in Hartford.

To find the answer, the ailing Freud invites Lewis to his London study for a chat. The question is more pertinent than intellectual, however, amidst air-raid sirens blaring and radio reports of Hitler’s invasion of Poland on the dawn of Britain’s entry into World War II.

The two men clearly are students of each other’s works, but they don’t see eye to eye on the question of God. He can’t be proved, Freud says, therefore he cannot exist and anyone believing in him is likely suffering from some sort of hallucinatory psychosis. How can a man of intellect abandon truth and embrace an insidious lie, the father of psycho analysis wants to know?

“What if it isn’t a lie? Have you considered how terrifying it might be to realize that you are wrong?” counters the writer of the Narnia Chronicles, who takes the atheist through some of the reasoning that led him to realize that the claims of Christ were true.

Underlying the ensuing debate, Freud’s fear does become apparent. He is dying of cancer which forced the removal of his palate and upper jaw. The prosthesis he wears is a constant source of pain – Lewis suspects that the atheist’s extraordinary effort to debunk the existence of God comes from the fear that he might be wrong.

“One of us is a fool. If you are right, you’ll be able to tell me so. But if I am right, neither of us will ever know,” Freud concludes.
The rapport between the men grows as they debate the issues of God, morality, sex, relationships with fathers and how a good God could let something evil, like Hitler, exist. They become quick friends as they don gas masks and take cover during an air raid and when Lewis must step in to help Freud adjust his prosthesis (audience members squirm in their seats, so intense is the scene).

Maxwell Williams tightly directs the intellectually satisfying debate that plays out in Freud’s well-appointed study designed by Evan Adamson. St. Germain throws in all of the best-known topics for debate, but never gets preachy. Both men get a fair shake and while there’s no definitive winner, we do believe one has had some influence on the other. St. Germain’s other play, Becoming Dr. Ruth, ran at TheaterWorks last season and had a recent Off-Broadway run.

Making their TheaterWorks debuts along with Williams, Tigar (TVs “Barney Miller”) and Crombie (“Anne of Green Gables”) give thoughtful, comprehensive portrayals (though Crombie’s British accent sounds forced at times).

The play was inspired by the book “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life” by Dr. Armand M. Nicholl, Jr. which placed the thoughts of the two contemporaries side by side, though no actual meeting is known to have taken place.

Think you know all you need to know about whether there is a God? I challenge you to go have a session with Freud and Lewis.

Through Feb. 23: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $15-$65; 860-527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org. 

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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