Review: Freud's Last Session a first-class act

Michael Peng as C. S. Lewis, left, and Randy Ritz as Sigmund Freud in Freud’s Last Session, by Mark St. Germain. - submitted
Michael Peng as C. S. Lewis, left, and Randy Ritz as Sigmund Freud in Freud’s Last Session, by Mark St. Germain.
— image credit: submitted

Giant questions about humanity's troubled existence were masterfully asked Thursday during Chemainus Theatre's brilliant little play Freud's Last Session.

The 75-minute existential duel heard powerful parrying between Dr. Sigmund Freud (Randy Ritz) and English author C.S. Lewis (Michael Peng) on a distinctive set designed by director Daniel vanHeyst.

The plot pits the two legendary brains against each other during a fictional 1939 meeting on the eve of Britain's war with Germany.

A dropped pin could be heard as the superb actors used convincing accents to march through Mark St. Germain's penetrating script.

It could be stretched into a series of plays exploring weighty questions many folks neither want nor care to ask themselves.

Such was not the case Thursday as Ritz's Viennese psychoanalyst, and Peng's Oxford professor, matched wits between sirens and airplanes overhead.

While human sexuality, euthanasia, and the quality of joy were lightly tapped, the gents spent this Session dissecting mankind's obsession with the existence of God: myth or reality?

"God cannot be proven scientifically," stated Roman-Catholic church hater Freud. "The Bible is myth and legend."

"But does that make them (scriptures) lies?" countered Lewis.

Of course, the only way to find out if there is a higher god is to die, and most folks believe we never hear the results.

But in Session, Freud — a Viennese Jew who fled the Nazis — argues God is a myth. Conversely, Lewis, a Christian, came to believe in God, and an afterlife.

To their credit, the intellectuals didn't really argue but debated this titanic topic, fueled by their immense knowledge of history and complex theology.

It would be too simplistic to say Session laid viewers on Freud's analysis couch. It prods us to ponder our beliefs, just as the two eggheads tried to trap the other into seeing things his way.

But their informed airs evaporated under our strongest equalizer: fear.

Their banter ended when those sirens started, and both guys scurried for gas masks.

While Freud's radio tuned in to BBC broadcasts (more volume, please Daniel) about a world war starting — "Again," said wounded First World War vet Lewis — news was punctuated by lovely classical music.

In a nice role reversal, Lewis turned the couch on Freud, claiming the famous doctor was seemingly numb inside due to a lifetime of torment and disappointment.

"You are afraid to feel emotion," he told Freud.

But while Lewis spoke from feelings and passions, Freud returned to a lack of hard evidence about God's existence.

"Man has never accepted he's alone in the universe," he told Lewis.

"I believe in science; you believe in a revelation."

To Lewis, it came to a choice. "You chose to believe, or not to believe."

Still, Freud trusted Lewis enough to let him slide a painful prosthesis from his bloody, cancer-ridden mouth during one of local stage's most wincing scenes.

Session also reflected what Lewis reminded Freud is life's touchstone: humour.

"Humour often tips the scales in debate," he told Freud, noting people cannot simply live in horror.

Dense, tense dialogue was focussed by vanHeyst's black-and-white set doted with photos imbedding in its walls.

Those walls assumed a lighter hue as Freud came to relax and listen to music.

Darkness dimmed with Lewis' tiny ray of hope. "History is full of monsters, and somehow we survive."

The gripping play's gift lay in being a dramatic catalyst for viewers of all educations to ponder big pictures outside life's daily grid.

Freud's Last Session runs at Chemainus Theatre's Studio Stage on Bare Point Road, until Aug. 30. Call 250-246-9820.

Dramatic play rating: 10 realities out of 10

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