2nd Story’s “Freud’s Last Session” Is Quick And Sharp

Jun 12, 2014

Ed Shea is Sigmund Freud in Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain.
Credit Richard W. Dionne, Jr.

It’s September, 1939 and the carnage of World War II is just beginning. Germany has invaded Poland. The British and their allies are preparing to fight. The world is on edge.

And, frankly, so are Dr. Freud and Professor Lewis, two of the great intellectuals of their time who are meeting in Freud’s office in England. But it’s not the Nazi war machine or the reluctant answer of its provocations by the British that’s under debate.

In a way, it’s even more. Freud and Lewis are struggling and debating about their souls; they concern themselves with life after death, or the lack of it. Freud says there’s no such thing. Lewis maintains Christianity is the light of the world.

In Mark St. Germain’s very short play – about an hour with no intermission – the two men, both astute and shrewd, smiling and quick thinking, battle mostly under the British rule of outward politeness. Religion, says the psychoanalyst, has no “moral law.”  It’s merely the struggle to maintain some kind of control.

Ah, replies the professor, but it can be the path to glory.

How can you “embrace an insidious lie,” the doctor asks.

Belief is the light of the world, the professor counters. I cannot prove it. But I believe it.

At 2nd Story before a set filled with a big potted plant backed by a wall of books in Freud’s office and occupied, of course, by chaise lounge for the patient, all of this is played out beautifully. Director Pat Hegnauer has moved the argument briskly and actors Ed Shea as Freud and Wayne Kneeland as Lewis respond with nuanced bravery.

Shea gives us a Freud who is ever piercing, ever alert. He sits with his legs tightly together, his shoulders held in. Ah, but when he argues his face reddens, his veins seem about to burst. He’s passionate about being alone in the universe. That’s all there is, he maintains. Deal with it.

Kneeland’s Lewis is more cheery. He’s a believer, after all. Slickly dressed with shoes so shiny they gleam, he sometimes counters Freud’s thrusts telling the unimpressed analyst about his Irish nanny who led him to Mass and everywhere else.

St. Germain’s play is pretty quick and certainly does not go very deep into religion, into belief and afterlife. But what it does give us is well presented and meaningful. The author has chosen to set this encounter of giants at the very end of Freud’s time on earth. He has oral cancer—all those cigars he’s smoked over the decades have come to roost. It’s scenes of Freud’s agony and bloodshed – done with true feeling by Shea -- that give some of the gravitas to “Freud’s Last Session.”

But don’t let that keep you away.

This is a quick and sharp work as far as it goes.  It’s very well done. And, after all, it asks a question that we all are going to face one day. 

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