Saturday, February 10, 2018

Freud's Last Session (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The premise sounds intriguing.  At the onset of WWII, Dr. Sigmund Freud has a conversation with C.S.Lewis.  One, the founder of modern psychological science, remains firm and fierce in his atheism.  The other, author (later) of the Chronicles of Narnia as well as The Screwtape Letters and other works, a famous former atheist who became a major Christian apologist (interesting term, that...).  At this point in their lives, the eighty-something Freud was dying of mouth cancer and had fled from the Nazis with his family.  Lewis, in his fifties, had only recently converted and had yet to become famous for his radio broadcasts, nor yet met the woman who would become his wife.  Not sure if my knowing quite so much about these two figures makes a major difference in appreciating the play.

So how is it?

Very enjoyable, if you enjoy a very good conversation between two interesting people who disagree with each other, especially under quietly dramatic circumstances. I happen to enjoy that kind of thing very much, and the performances only added to my enjoyment.

Credit: Enci Box
Martin Rayner as Freud conveyed a living copy of what I know about the man.

Interestingly Martyn Stanbridge as Lewis, which giving a very good performance, resembles his character not at all (I've seen Lewis portrayed many times, and almost no one really looked much like him).

Publicity made much of the fact Freud was a devout atheist and was challenging the relatively new Christian convert, which to be fair is a running thread throughout the play. But it really never becomes more.  If (as frankly I was) you come expecting to hear something insightful on the subject then you will probably feel some disappointment. Likewise if you desired to learn something really important about these two you might not have simply by watching a documentary or two about these two fascinating characters--again, you will not find that here. The play simply lacks anything approaching that power.

Credit: Enci Box
What it gives rather--backed up by excellent performances, top quality production design, etc.--turns out to be a interesting conversation in which we walk away with some sharp insights into Freud but little more than an overview of Lewis.  The actual start of World War Two happening on this day--when Prime Minister Chamberlain announced Hitler was not going to withdraw from Poland, and then the King spoke to the nation about the greivous ordeal ahead--forms a lovely framework but does little else.  Freud's impending death and the very real agony from his mis-shaped mouthpiece (replacing his upper palate after surgery for mouth cancer) offers poignancy, very real and touching.

But that is it.  Which, to be fair, feels very nice.  I enjoyed myself.  Freud's Last Session makes for a very human slice of life not only for these characters but for the twentieth century itself.  I felt interest, charm, admiration -- but never fascination, never real surprise, never powerful emotions. Which perhaps says more about me than anything else.  It proves quite enjoyable, but never very compelling, which ultimately comes down to Mark ST. Germain's script, and for all I know this is precisely what he was aiming for.

Freud's Last Session plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm through March 4, 2018 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90025.  Also some special performances on Wednesday February 21 and Thursday March 1.

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