Actually, they walk into a study. Actually, Lewis walks into Freud’s study. And they have tea, not booze. And they’re anticipating an air raid.
Last Thursday, I attended Taproot Theatre‘s newest play; Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain. Scott Nolte, the Producing Artistic Director, sums up the plot:
The setting is London. The date is September 3rd, 1939, the day that Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. Outside Freud’s study the residents of London are activating evacuation plans, packing portable gas masks and huddling by the radio to wait for the King’s Speech. Inside Freud’s study, a young writer has been invited to take tea with an aging intellectual giant.
What would they talk about, these brilliant men, as the city around them prepares for war? An 83 year old Austrian doctor, reaching the end of a life that has seen revolutionary changes happen in the world, and a 40 year old British professor just at the start of his literary career. Here are two great minds, one an atheist and one a Christian, whose writings on the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the future of civilization will be immensely influential. Is it possible to have a conversation about important ideas without being demeaning, nasty, and arrogant?
Honestly, one of the most brilliant concepts for a play I’ve ever heard. Freud’s Last Session only runs 75 minutes – no intermission – and it just flies by. Nolan Palmer’s portrayal of Freud is fantastic; he delivers what could be downright insulting lines to Lewis with humor and a sort of surprising innocence. Matt Shimkus portrays Lewis as a highly intelligent man with strong convictions, yet who is still willing to listen with respect to the aging Freud in a way that doesn’t come of as a semi-pitying courtesy to the elder, but suggests he truly does have an open mind.
The punchlines are genuinely funny – and much needed, because the tense moments in the play are extremely so. The clips of announcements and news on the radio regarding the war build, and when the air raid sirens go off, the fear is very real. (When they finally stopped, many audience members heaved sighs of relief.)
The most emotional and well-executed moment is the climax of the play. Freud suffers from a cancerous growth in his mouth and reveals to Lewis not long after they meet his intentions on committing suicide – something which triggers a fascinating discussion between the two. The performances of both men in the final scene are among some of the most intense and emotional I’ve ever seen in the theatre.
Freud’s Last Session runs at Taproot Theatre through April 21st, 2012. Tickets are available online.