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Stage Page - ‘Freud’s Last Session’ is more than small talk Shari Barrett | Fri, Feb 09 2018 08:00 AM

 

Intellectual debate and food for Thought via an Imaginary meeting with C.S. Lewis

 

Offers Intellectual

I have often wondered “what if” about the possible meetings between historical or literary figures and what would have been discussed.  For instance, what if Edgar Allan Poe had met Emily Dickinson? What would they have talked about and would these two outcasts have brought out the best or worst in each other’s lonely existences?

As such I was definitely intrigued to see the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s presentation of Mark St. Germain’s off-Broadway hit, directed by Emmy Award-winner Robert Mandel, as the play imagines a meeting between the father of psychoanalysis, Dr. Sigmund Freud, and rising Oxford don and author C.S. Lewis who went on to write the enormously popular children’s book series “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Their imaginary meeting takes place in London on Sept. 3, 1939, the day England entered World War II and just two weeks before Freud, in the advanced stages of oral cancer, took his own life via a self-inflicted morphine overdose.
Suggested by the book “The Question of God” by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., Playwright St Germain shares, “At the end of the book, the author said there was a young Oxford man who visited Freud shortly before his death, and wouldn’t it have been fascinating if it were C.S. Lewis?  I just imagined the idea of these two people with diametrically opposed religious beliefs meeting together and what good drama would result from it.”

Turns out, this stimulating and highly intellectual play offers much debate on many topics and concerns, not only religious but political as radio broadcasts and air raid sirens interrupt them, causing them to scramble like frightened children for gas masks and the closest bomb shelter when the threat of an imminent air raid takes place. And thanks to Christopher Moscatiello’s brilliant sound design, those broadcasts, as well as Freud’s beloved dog’s offstage barking, are totally realistic.

Taking place in his home office/study (with incredibly detailed scenic design by Pete Hickok, enhanced by prop designer Josh La Cour’s addition of art pieces reflecting Freud’s love of mythology and legends), Sigmund Freud is brilliantly portrayed by Martin Rayner, the actor who created the character in the play’s world premiere, himself a doubleganger for the renowned doctor.

It is very easy to imagine you really are in the presence of this remarkable and innovative scientist as he suffers the indignities of the oral cancer robbing him of the ability to speak without incredible pain after witnessing Rayner’s totally immersive portrayal.

We soon learn Freud has invited the younger Lewis, portrayed by Martyn Stanbridge as a newly reborn Christian and great intellect, anxious to meet the famed psychoanalyst to engage in a brain-teasing battle of wits on the subjects of love, sex and the existence of God.

As their discussions move from topic to topic, often filled with humor, this deeply touching play explores the minds, hearts and souls of two brilliant men addressing the greatest questions of all time. Offers Intellectual
“The debate of God’s existence set against the backdrop of George VI committing Britain to WWII and Freud’s last days is compelling and dramatic,” says the play’s director Mandel. “The dialogue is thought provoking, smart and humorous.”  This is especially true since Freud believed that with his expanded theories of Darwinian concepts, all aspects of the human mind and behavior were accounted for without the need to reference the supernatural, eliminating what he saw as the purpose of religion which he saw as an active hindrance to the sexual freedom that was essential to the correct and natural development of the human as a biological being.  By inviting Lewis over to discuss how he could go back to believing in his early Christian faith after proclaiming to be an atheist in his teens, Freud’s interest in psychoanalyzing is noted by Lewis every step along the way by the author whose deep conversations with his fellow Inklings authors at Oxford, including J.R.R. Tolkien, no doubt prepared him to discuss his deep appreciation of his own faith.

 

I cannot offer enough praise on all levels to Mandal and the amazingly talented Rayner and Stanbridge for their overwhelming dedication to bringing the thought-provoking and incredibly intellectually interesting “Freud’S Last Session” to the Odyssey Theatre where performances continue through March 4 on Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m..  Tickets range from $30 to $35 with a Tix for $10 performance on Thursday, March 1. A cast talkback takes place after the Sun. Feb. 11 matinee, and the third Friday of every month audience members can enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show. I guarantee you will have many questions to ask them after you attend either of those two performances. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 SSepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information, call 310-477-2055 or go to www.OdysseyTheatre.com

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