Mark St. Germain’s play imagines a meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis in September 1939 on the eve of WWII – and only two weeks before Freud chose to take his own life to end his battle with oral cancer. Freud’s Last Session is not the most innovative or sexy play, but it achieves a very rare and engaging mix of intellectual debate and wry humor.
St. Germain has given these men some fairly canned speeches systematically setting forth their opinions on the existence of God, love, sex, and the meaning of life. I don’t mind this, since I imagine that Freud and Lewis had crafted such speeches themselves, and if they did indeed have the meeting that the playwright imagines for them, they would have trotted them out in much the way he portrays.
Certainly, the debate St. Germain gives them is plenty meaty and rich. Lewis, expecting to be called on the carpet for satirizing Freud in a recent book, soon realizes Freud has a much more significant agenda. Freud, a convinced and thoughtful atheist, grills Lewis, a former atheist who converted to Christianity, about his views on God…and humor.
Freud and Lewis are committed to their ideas, but are agile enough debaters to treat their exchange like a fencing match, with all of the flash and unexpected reversals that suggests. While intellectually deep, there’s no gut-wrenching drama in their debates (that comes from the world outside as air raid sirens sound). This is academia as it should be, not a blood sport but an arena where opposing ideas are respected but reasons for disagreement are fully thought out.
You don’t need to have a doctoral degree to enjoy Freud’s Last Session; the playwright has laid things out clearly enough that any reasonably well-educated person can follow what’s going on. But there’s not doubt that the primary pleasure of this play is the way it provokes your own thoughts on the subjects that Lewis and Freud cover. Good, clean, smart fun.
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