Saturday, January 26, 2013
ENGAGING GOD IN "FREUD'S LAST SESSION
By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Much is being made of the intellectual acumen that fills “Freud’s Last Session,” a dramatized account of the fictionalized conversation between Sigmund Freud and the much younger C.S. Lewis debating the existence of God just three weeks before the cancer-wracked Freud would pass away.
No such conversation ever took place, but playwright Mark St. Germaine has imagined quite an engaging match of wits between these two virtuoso scholars – Freud the devout atheist and Lewis the devoted Christian.
It is the “engaging match of wits” part that deserves more credit. The playwright portrays Freud as a man of humor who loves a good joke, and Lewis as a somewhat impish 41-year-old (which we can believe, knowing that Lewis a decade later would begin writing the beloved “Chronicles of Narnia”).
St. Germaine also sets this conversation in Freud’s spacious London study on the morning of Sept. 3, 1939. The day England declared war on Germany with a wave of bomber attacks. In the play’s opening minutes there is a radio announcement that war has begun. In the play’s closing minutes, we hear the rumble of British bombers overhead.
And we know that Freud, who is caught in thought to close the play in a shrinking spotlight, will request a fatal dose of morphine just three weeks later to end 16 years of painful suffering from cancer of the jaw.
Did the famous psychoanalyst end his life believing he convinced Lewis that God doesn’t exist? Or did he face death with a shaken conviction in atheism?
During a recent interview, St. Germaine remarked that people who come to the play favoring Freud’s opinion of God will believe Freud won the debate. And those who favor Lewis will feel Lewis won.
The playwright, meanwhile, has made certain neither side is favored. In the play itself, both Freud and Lewis say their philosophies haven’t been changed one iota by the vigorous defense of the other.
In the program notes, director Stephen Wrentmore states his belief that Freud sought the meeting with Lewis, a bright scholar of rising reputation, because Freud wanted to test his atheistic beliefs against the toughest Christian mind in England. And the bright-eyed Lewis accepted because he wanted the same challenge.
For the theatergoer who cares more for drama than for debate, there is plenty to appreciate as the staunch personalities of both develop right before our eyes.
Who wins is not the point in “Freud’s Last Session.” This is not another version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.” These two men are not out to destroy each other.
In a very real sense, they are more like two professional football players testing other with equal brilliance on the field. In the end, what matters to them is not the naming of a winner but an appreciation for how well each played the game.
“Freud’s Last Session” continues through Feb. 9 at various times Tuesdays through Sundays in the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets start at $32, with discounts for seniors, active duty military and students; half-price rush tickets, when available, an hour before curtain. For details and reservations, 520-622-2823, www.arizonatheatre.org