Monday, April 9, 2012

What if C. S. Lewis talked to Sigmund Freud?

I didn't know what to expect. I'd heard several excellent reports on the Taproot Theatre production of "Freud's Last Session." (But you never know what to expect from what others say.) Two people on stage for 75 minutes? Could be good. Or, on the other hand ... well, I had to see for myself.

Imagine if Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis had an hour to expound and question each other about personal accountability, the meaning of life, and ultimate destiny. That's the premise of the award-winning play by Mark St. Germain (Best 2011 Off-Broadway Alliance Play).

The play drafts Lewis (Matt Shimkus) in his 40s––coming into his full philosophical and literary power, and Freud (Nolan Palmer) in his 80s––at the end of his life, suffering from oral cancer. The set of a mid-century London studio replete with antiques, a chaise longue, and Oriental rugs was beautiful enough to make several of my neighbors sigh with contentment.

Freud and Lewis spar: if God were good, wouldn't we always be happy? What is the purpose of suffering? Can we choose to end our lives or is suicide the ultimate selfishness.

"Perhaps, if pleasure is God's whisper, pain is his megaphone," responds Lewis. Perhaps, he suggests, instead of being absent as atheists suppose, God appears to us incognito, surrounding us and inviting us into relationship.

Freud shrugs off the recognition of a greater purpose as the two circle the stage, parrying, asking, and admitting their finite grasp of life's Questions.

The frequent interplay of actors and historical props (including radio broadcasts) makes Taproot one of our favorite companies. The snippets about Lewis, Tolkien and the others in their Inklings' literature group, the settings of WWII, and insights into peer personalities like Weldon helped me to contextualize other information I've picked up by reading and watching movies.

The usual white-haired Saturday matinee crowd was liberally sprinkled with college and middle-aged attendees. It was fun to watch varied responses to the repartee on the stage: we sat riveted by the circling and clash of the actors. The audience packed the space; I appreciated my media tickets.

I like to listen to eavesdrop during intermission (this play had none) and afterwards in the foyer. However, people slowly walked out of the theater to the street, thinking but not speaking. Not until we were a block away did I began to hear both thoughtful and agitated comments on what we'd seen.

Adults who wonder at the contrast between the world's beauty and God's reticence to intervene in life's unpleasantness and pain will identify with the discussion from both sides. Older teens and college students will love the frank and often humorous exploration of human choices, conscience vs. parental repression, the origin of our beliefs, the influence of fathers, and current issues that haunt us, like suicide. Some explicit language makes this inappropriate for children. (Let them sit this one out with a babysitter.)

You have three more weeks to see "Freud's Last Session" in Taproot's 85th Ave. theater. It closes April 28. Don't miss it! You can get tickets for this and the upcoming show "Leaving Iowa" on Taproot’s Website.

Photos by Erik Stuhaug.


  1. Thanks for this fine review, Rosemarie. I'm sure I won't get to see it, but the concept is great.

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