THEATER REVIEW: "Freud’s Last Session"

“Things are simple only if you choose not to examine them.”

Sigmund Freud (Robert Smyth), outspoken atheist and the father of modern psychiatry, is talking to British author C.S. Lewis (Fran Gercke), who rather late in life came to his devout Christianity.

But, Lewis asserts, he now believes that “there is a God. That a man doesn’t have to be an imbecile to believe in Him. And we feeble-minded who do are not, as you claim, suffering from a pathetic ‘obsessional neurosis.’”

The occasion of this meeting – which probably never happened, more’s the pity – was the dying Freud’s invitation to the author half his age. Lewis assumed it was his attack in “Pilgrim’s Regress” characterizing Freud as “an ignorant, vain old man” that sparked the invitation.

It wasn’t. Freud admired Lewis’ earlier essay on Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” But tonight, in Mark St. Germain’s fascinating two-hander “Freud’s Last Session,” these two giants of 20th-century thought will spent 90 intermissionless minutes kicking around their ideas on God, religion, morality, mortality, war and even sex – and keep the audience enthralled in the process.

“Freud’s Last Session” plays through May 17 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, under Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s assured direction.

The setting is Freud’s office in London; the time, Sept. 3, 1939, two days after Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Freud had recently fled his Vienna home after witnessing Nazi book burnings. Set designer Brian Prather has created a marvelous office crammed with books and works of art – many of them statues of Greek, Roman, Hindu gods and goddesses – and other holy objects.

“I’m interested in belief systems,” Freud explains.

St. Germain breaks up what could sound like a class in religious philosophy with air raid sirens, radio news bulletins and phone calls from Freud’s daughter Anna. But honestly, his writing is so clear, concise, funny and downright fascinating that these other distractions aren’t really needed.

Smyth’s Freud is elder-statesmanlike, avuncular, and amused at his younger (and to his mind, misguided) colleague. He is unable to resist a good philosophical debate even though talking makes his mouth bleed. (The play takes place only weeks before his suicide from a morphine overdose agreed to by his doctor because of a particularly painful cancer of the jaw.)

Gercke, the young Turk, is bright, dapper and a bit full of himself, perfectly able to hit the any philosophical volley from the old pro right back into his court at lightning speed.

The discussion is aided by the atmospheric lighting and sound of Nathan Peirson and Deborah Gilmour Smyth, and Juliet Czoka’s appropriate costumes.

Nothing will be resolved here, but “Freud’s Last Session” (based on Armand Nicholl’s 2002 book “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex and the Meaning of Life”) is a piece for those who would enjoy a bracing round of intellectual volleyball between two of the last century’s greatest thinkers.

The details

“Freud’s Last Session” plays through May 17 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado in San Diego, California

Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 437-6000 or Click HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.