Freud’s Last Session

In Play Reviews on November 5, 2013 at 2:27 pm

by Mark St. Germain

A review by Katrina Gass

Yes, dear readers, I have changed my name because over the summer I got married. Since that confusion has now been cleared up, I hope you can enjoy today’s review, which carries with it some heavy but worthwhile thoughts.


Is there a God? Why is there evil and suffering in the world? Who was Jesus Christ – really? These questions, and many others, stop the audience member in his tracks and force him to really examine what he thinks about the struggle that is existence in this most recent production by Centre Stage in Greenville, SC.


In Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain, the legendary psychoanalyst invites a guest over to his home for tea. This guest is the equally legendary Christian apologist and author, C.S. Lewis. The meeting of these two men is fictitious, but could have happened during the last years of Freud’s life, which were spent in London. The possibility is tantalizing, given their diametrically opposed worldviews and their contrasting, yet admittedly impressive accomplishments.


The aging, terminally ill Sigmund Freud is played by Ron Pyle, a theatre arts professor at Bob Jones University. Among other roles, Pyle has played Hamlet, Richard III, and Prospero in the university’s Shakespearean productions, and has many years of directing experience. Pyle brings a likeability to Freud, but also aptly shows us the physical and emotional pain that the dying man was experiencing.


C.S. Lewis, who at the start of the play is a new, “reluctant” convert to Christianity, is played by Trevor Furlong, an appropriately British actor who has played several roles at Centre Stage Theatre. Furlong brings a vulnerability and some hesitancy to Lewis, which is appropriate since at the time of the play’s events Lewis would not yet have written any of his major theological works.


Yet even as a baby Christian, Lewis is fairly well-matched against the cantankerous Freud in the events of this play. The action begins on September 3, 1939, as the world braces itself for what will develop into World War II. Freud, a Jew, has fled Vienna and started a practice in London. Although Freud is suffering from a particularly savage oral cancer, he still has enough energy to question why such an impressive intellect as Lewis would have succumbed to the delusion of God.


As you might expect, much of the play consists of verbal sparring and logical argument. If that were the only substance of this play I would advise an audience member to bring a cup of strong coffee to carry him through the ordeal. Thankfully, there is more to Freud’s Last Session than cerebral battle.


As Ron Pyle put it in the brief talkback afterward, it is important to look for what actually happens in a play, and to examine which characters change. This exercise will keep you from drowning in the witty sparring that makes up much of a play like this. While one might say that not much happens while two men converse in a sitting room, if you look closer you will discover more.


During the play’s events, an air raid siren goes off, followed a few minutes later by the loud sound of planes overhead. Lewis, having fought in World War I, is profoundly affected by these reminders of war, but stays with Freud during what both men think is an air attack. This act of selflessness is an important moment in the play and affects Freud’s view of his opponent.


Later on, Freud’s prosthetic mouthpiece causes him severe pain, and he asks Lewis to help him remove it. This difficult and gruesome act by Lewis does bring Freud some relief and makes him very grateful to his intellectual enemy.


Unsurprisingly, neither of these men changes his view of the world or of religion before curtain call. But that isn’t what this play is about. Furlong stated in the talkback that what is important is to question your belief system every day. If a person decides that they have all the answers, they will make no progress and might be living their entire life under false assumptions. But if one questions his beliefs every day, examining his conclusions honestly, he is more likely to discover the truth.


Lewis, in the final scene of the play, prepares to leave. He pauses to say that, far from being settled in his beliefs, his view of God changes almost daily, that God himself shatters it and that the divine “incognito” is extremely difficult to penetrate. In other words, he expresses that God is everywhere but hard to understand. So Lewis keeps trying.


Each of us, if we want to discover the truth, will keep trying, keep examining, and keep questioning what we believe. Not necessarily to change it, but to better understand its complexities and implications for our lives.


A modern audience member will learn from this play a little more about the lives of two famous men, will hopefully examine his own heart’s beliefs, and as Lewis states on his way out of the final scene, will hopefully “come awake, and stay awake.”


If you can, please try to make it the final showing of Freud’s Last Session, taking place at 7:00 pm on this Tuesday, November 5 at Centre Stage Theatre in downtown Greenville. Your soul will be better for it.


By Katrina GassBio_Shots-3

  1. Katrina,
    Thanks for the fascinating review. I have read the Question of God which is a compilation of Freud and Lewis’ views on philosophy, life and God, but did not know there was a play on the topic. Your post made me wish I had been there.

    • Thanks for your kind comment, Dan! I’m glad you found the review helpful. Have a great Thanksgiving, and feel free to send us more feedback at any time.


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