What if an infamous atheistic psychologist met with an infamous formerly atheist Christian apologist and had a conversation about life and God and war, and God, and relationships and God and…?
This is the premise of writer Mark St. Germain’s brilliant two-man play, “Freud’s Last Session,” performed by the Lambs Players Theater in Coronado, CA and directed by Deborah Gilmour Smythe.
Robert Smythe gave a nuanced and witty performance as the cancer-stricken, aging Freud and newcomer to Lambs’, Fran Gercke, was the perfect foil as the young Oxford professor, C.S. Lewis, who lampoons Freud in his work, “Pilgrim’s Regress.”
While the meeting/conversation never actually took place, one can only imagine what might be spoken with the meeting of two such great minds.
The actors portray the respective Austrian and English accents without going over the top and the drama of Lewis’s WWI flashbacks on the eve of WWII and Freud’s terminal cancer are played poignantly without being cloying or detracting from the main premise of the storyline.
Besides the fast-paced witty banter and intelligent arguments for (or against) the existence of God by both characters, the set design and stage direction give subtle-but-powerful momentum to the story. Perhaps only a true Narnia-lover may have noticed, but amongst the many artifacts that Freud collected in his “office,” the stage set had a statue of a lion at the foot of the famous psychologist’s “couch,” which seemed a wink and nod to Lewis fans. The telephone and the radio also play important roles in the movement of the story, with phone calls to/from Freud’s famous daughter, Anna, and the BBC radio broadcasts featuring Neville Chamberlain and King George.
But perhaps the most moving moment in the play was not a line spoken by either of the characters, or even one of the telephone or radio voices, but rather, a song. Our hearts catch in our throats and tears spring to our eyes as the play closes with Lewis leaving Freud, not sure he’s made any headway in a convincing argument for the existence of God, and Freud only having weeks to live. As the stage lights fade, the music crescendos and we hear Vaughn Williams’ moving and famous song, “Lark Ascending.”
And just as the lark represents dawning in most symbolism and literature, we are left with the poignant hope that the aging Freud has experienced something beyond his Self.