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Freud, C.S. Lewis and God
City Stage New West has been grappling with some heavy duty issues such as finances, so it’s appropriate it’s putting on a play that gets the audience grappling with something as mentally challenging as the question of God.
“I don’t think any of our group has shied away from any heavy duty topics,” said Chris Robson, associate artistic director of City Stage.
Robson is the director for the company’s production of Freud’s Last Session, which will make its Western Canadian premiere at Galbraith House (131 Eighth St.) later this month. It’s a play that fictitiously hooks up Dr. Sigmund Freud and British author C.S. Lewis, who went from being an atheist to an “apologist for Christianity.” It occurs during the dying days of the cancer-stricken founding father of psychoanalysis who went to live in London to avoid being in Nazi Germany. Both men were aware of each other and Lewis had publicly criticized Freud in London newspapers.
“The plays that I’m drawn to the most are the journeys of the human spirit,” said Robson. “You can interpret that in many ways, when someone is faced with a big decision. In this case, these characters are meeting on the day England is declaring war on Nazi Germany.
“The playwright (Mark St. Germain) strikes a balance between edification and entertainment. He gives people an insight into their private lives that anybody would be fascinated by. For people who think they know what Freud is about or C.S. Lewis is about, I think they’ll see some surprises.”
City Stage board president Damon Calderwood saw the off-Broadway sensation in Oregon and immediately wanted to play Lewis.
“He was quite taken with it,” said Robson. “He pursued it. He’s relentless that way, when he sees something he wants to do he pursues it.”
Although City Stage hadn’t put on a production for a while, financially it worked well for them because their biggest expenses were acquiring the play’s rights and the venue rental. With only Calderwood and Richard Newman, who portrays Freud, on the stage a big theatre wasn’t needed. Galbraith House fit their needs because it’s like an old English house and its dining room area can hold an audience of up to 40.
“It’s not like a big technical production, there’s not going to be any big bells and whistles,” said Robson. “That’s what made it another good sell as far as the board was concerned. It wasn’t going to break the bank. Despite the small venue we’ll still break even even if we’re only at half capacity.
“It’s a very intimate setting. In a lot of bigger theatres people might feel removed from what is happening. In Galbraith House you’re pretty much sitting in the laps of the characters. If you’re playing Freud or Lewis there’s nowhere to hide. It’s a very personal experience.”
Freud’s Last Session raises provocative questions and City Stage has a responsibility to choose projects that make people think and feel, said Robson. But, he added, the big issue in the long run for City Stage is finances.
“Having what I would say is a good track record of unique productions spread out over time, we’re at a crossroads,” Robson said. “This is our challenge now, to take this to the next level. Getting somebody on this board who has experience in fundraising [is a priority]. This board has ample experience in making theatre, but the other thing is paying for theatre.”
The play will run Jan. 29 to Feb. 9. More information is available at www.citystagenewwest.org.
In conjunction with the play, a lecture entitled The Freud-Lewis Connection will be delivered by Trinity Western University professor Monika Hilder and behavioural scientist Mychael Gleeson at the New Westminster Public Library, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 7 to 9 p.m.