Through March 4th at the Odyssey Theatre, Mark St. Germain’s two- character play, Freud’s Last Session sets two iconic figures side by side. And once so positioned, they debate, spar, agree, disagree, and passionately digress in a strong acting tour de force.
Martin Rayner as Sigmund Freud and Martyn Stanbridge as C.S. Lewis both convey their characters needs, wants, desires, and beliefs, bringing to life a profound 90 minutes of dialog that takes place on the day that England enters World War II.
Set in Freud’s convivial study, Lewis is a guest, invited to debate the existence of God with Freud. Just who has the more twisty and tenacious psychological profile, or the more defiant view of life, death, and war is the shifting point of the dialogue.
Rayner’s Freud is charming and witty, and a touch explosive. But then who wouldn’t be, contemplating suicide as a way to escape the ravages of oral cancer. Stanbridge’s Lewis is more even keel, but falls into a rhythm of sparring with Freud, enjoying the music of language as much as the arguments themselves may frustrate him.
The central crux of their disagreements arise around Lewis’ recent conversion to the Anglican faith, while Freud, as the father of psychoanalysis, is adamant that such a conversion is foolishness and blissfully unaware of his own psychological foibles. The debate is interrupted by radio announcements and music, the threat of German bombs, an off-stage barking dog, and the death-rattle coughs of Freud.
Mostly they talk, and under lesser hands the dialogue might lag. With Rayner and Stanbridge, however, there is so much life and vibrance to the performances – they simply embody their characters and make them into people we want to meet and get to know – that we’re compelled to listen and keep doing so.
Tense and insightful, no matters debated here are resolved neatly; rather the human condition, and a very human stubborn adherence to ones beliefs, are the meaty heart of this two-man play.