Freud's Last Session -- Theater Review

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A few weeks before his death in 1939, Sigmund Freud received a visit from an Oxford professor at his home in London. The identity of the caller is lost to history, but playwright Mark St. Germain imagines that it was a young C.S. Lewis, before his fame as a religious philosopher and the author of the "Narnia" books.

In "Freud's Last Session," now in a second engagement at the intimate studio space of the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass., the pioneer of psychoanalysis debates the existence of God with the passionate advocate of Christianity, who has had a conversion from strident atheism.

St. Germain has played with history and fiction in such plays as "Camping With Henry and Tom" (an encounter between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison) and "Ears on a Beatle" (two FBI agents eavesdropping on John Lennon). The script occasionally lapses into obvious maneuvering. It's hardly credible that both Freud and Lewis, who have just met, would use each other's personal lives to score points. But for the most part, the 75-minute two-character play is tight and thoughtful, giving equal weight to both sides of the argument.

Director Tyler Marchant keeps the action moving around set designer Brian Prather's faithful reproduction of Freud's office -- complete with the famous couch -- on a postage stamp-sized stage without ever crowding his actors.

Martin Rayner and Mark H. Dold capture the intellectual ferocity of Freud and Lewis. Rayner is irascible master at the end of his powers -- Freud is dying of oral cancer -- and fiery gladiator for the cause of reason. Dold conveys Lewis' fervent faith, born of compassion and conviction, without becoming overbearing.

It's a tribute to these two and to the playwright that their dialogue never feels like a pair of talking heads but a meeting of men as well as minds.

Venue: Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, Mass. (Through Sept. 6)
Cast: Martin Rayner, Mark H. Dold
Playwright: Mark St. Germain
Director: Tyler Marchant
Set designer: Brian Prather
Costume designer: Mark Mariani
Lighting designer: Clifton Taylor
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