Theater: Freud’s Last Session

Mark St. Germain's latest play is an imagined talk-fest in which Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis engage in a “brainy fencing match of Olympic caliber.”

Marjorie S. Deane Little Theatre

New York

(212) 352-3101

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If his life is anything like his plays, Mark St. Germain “must throw some mighty interesting dinner parties,” said Frank Scheck in the New York Post. In 1995’s Camping With Henry and Tom, he imagined a trip supposedly taken by Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, while his most recent play concerns a fictional meeting between two other 20th-century luminaries who match wits. St. Germain imagines an “elderly, cancer-stricken” Sigmund Freud receiving a visit in 1939 from writer and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. He and the atheist Freud engage in a “free-ranging conversation” about everything from premarital sex to suicide. St. Germain’s script is admirably evenhanded and intellectually rich, but this 75-minute play is “essentially one long talk-fest.”

The pleasure of seeing Freud and Lewis in a “brainy fencing match of Olympic caliber” should be enough to keep anyone interested, said John Simon in Tyler Marchant’s “easefully animated” direction keeps this production free from claustrophobia, and gives the actors room to shine. It’s true that Freud, convincingly embodied in looks and demeanor by Martin Rayner, “inevitably gets better lines,” skewering his guest’s religious zeal with witty barbs. But Mark Dold’s Lewis proves a formidable opponent, as he shrewdly points out Freud’s own failings. Much of the play’s joy comes from the two men’s contrasting demeanors: “sophisticated comic versus restrained straight man.” Yet St. Germain proves to have a deft emotional touch, as well: Throughout the play, the psychoanalyst is visibly in pain, and in one marvelous moment “the excruciated Freud is helped to the couch by Lewis, who sits solicitously beside him like an analyst’s analyst.”

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