Conversation, God and men
Freud’s Last Session
Sacramento, CA 95814
You need to schedule at least three hours to really experience B Street Theatre’s new one-hour production. The first hour is to watch the 70-minute one-act play, Freud’s Last Session; the next two hours are to have fun philosophical discussions on what you just saw.
The play, an imagined conversation between two of the most innovative thinkers of the 20th century—Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis—is inspired, both in topic and in setting. And the captivating performances of the two leads—David Silberman as Freud and Jason Kuykendall as Lewis—adds to the intimate feeling of being a fly on the wall as two fascinating intellectuals have a friendly banter of beliefs and ideas.
Both Freud (renowned founder of psychoanalysis) and Lewis (renowned author of The Chronicles of Narnia, but also a Christian philosopher) were both proud atheists at one time. Freud remained a firm nonbeliever until his death, while Lewis eventually returned to the fold, with many of his works reflecting his rediscovered faith, including wartime radio broadcasts.
Though there is no indication that the two ever actually met, they were compatriots in London at the same time during a pivotal moment in history—the lead-up to England’s involvement in World War II. Freud, an Austrian Jew, had fled the Nazis in 1938 and landed in England, the adopted home of the Irish-born Anglican Lewis.
Playwright Mark St. Germain creates a meeting of the minds between these two which takes place in Freud’s London library on the day British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declares war on Germany and three weeks before Freud commits suicide. It’s an inspired choice, with the threat of war and the emergence of Hitler becoming catalysts for discussions of God and Satan, good and evil, heaven and hell, belief and science, and the overall state of mankind, while throwing in mentions of their contemporaries H.G. Wells and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as political and historical figures.
What’s a welcome and surprising addition to the dialogue is the sense of humor both men express during their verbal jousting, which makes the visit seem like a natural conversation between the two. The only weakness to the play is its lack of really delving into Lewis’ reaffirming faith, and the drilling down into some of the more meaty matters that could have been accomplished with the addition of a little bit more time and material. But this is meant as a quick slice of life, two philosophers on one afternoon, so perhaps there shouldn’t be expectations of more (yet the wish remains).
The B Street regulars, and two of the most talented actors in town, create a wonderful synergy. Silberman delicately captures Freud’s intelligence and touching vulnerability, while Kuykendall explores the complexity of a still-young and newly faith-embracing Lewis. Director Jerry Montoya carefully guides the two through their tangos, always making sure the balance is steady throughout.
The set is a beautiful English parlor, with the eminent war cleverly intruding through radio broadcasts, air raid sirens and gas mask drills. It’s the perfect spot for a visit between strangers who already know each other through their works, and for an audience intrigued by both. This brief interlude with these interesting men—and their intriguing minds—is sure to remain for a long time, especially if you add those two hours of discussion afterwards, most preferably over a pint or a glass of sherry.