Don't go to the new Rep Studio production of "Freud's Last Session" expecting an evening of light comedy. The fact that there are several laughs in Mark St. Germain's play doesn't take away from the intellectual challenge of the imaginary meeting between Freud and C.S.Lewis, the author and lay theologian. Freud is in the last weeks of his life in September of 1939 as war is being declared. He has invited Lewis to his home, so that they may meet.
Lewis thinks he's been asked to be called to account for a scathing parody of Freud in one of his books. No, Freud says, it's Lewis' work in early English literature he's interested in. But soon enough the conversation turns to religion between the raised-Jewish atheist Freud and Lewis, who discovered he believed in the divinity of Christ as he was riding in a motorcycle sidecar en route to the zoo.
And so the game is on between these two very civilized but strongly opinionated intellectuals. Barry Mulholland's Freud is softer, yea, warmer than we usually think of him, lending humanity to the legendary psychoanalyst. Lewis, as done by Jim Butz, gives us a quiet Lewis, yet at times almost glows with his passion. And there's a passing reference to his use of the word "joy", which Lewis anointed with a greater meaning than we commonly hear. lronic, of course, in that he would eventually marry a woman by that name. Fine, fine work by both actors.
It's an intellectually challenging conversation, one that seems to balance both sides of the argument about the existence of a supreme being, The match is so good, one doesn't mind it ending in a tie, although perhaps strong proponents of each side might feel otherwise.
The London study of Freud is perfectly evocative and a tribute to the scenic designers, Peter and Margery Spack. James Sale lights the set well, and sound, by Benjamin Marcum, brings in Neville Chamberlain and the real king's speech as well as a few other surprises.
Kudos to Michael Evan Haney who directed this tightly-wound piece. This is a small venue, so move with alacrity. It's a worthwhile evening, short at 75 minutes, but that allows time for a pint afterwards and some discussion.
Freud's Last Session
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
through November 24