‘Freud’s Last Session’ is a compelling, gripping play
By Betty Mohr Theater Reviewfirstname.lastname@example.org August 29, 2012 3:08PM
Mike Nussbaum (right, as Sigmund Freud) and Coburn Goss (C.S. Lewis) star in "Freud's Last Session" in Chicago. The show runs through Nov. 11.
◆ Through Nov. 11
◆ Mercury Theater,
3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago
◆ Tickets, $45-$59
◆ (773) 325-1700;
Updated: October 1, 2012 4:05PM
As the Nazis marched into power in Austria, Sigmund Freud made his escape to England.
It is now 1939 and Freud, listening to the radio, learns that Germany just took over Poland.
As the father of psychoanalysis sits in his London suite (a replica of his Vienna office) he hears the screaming assault of bombs as the Germans attack London.
It seems that the whole world is coming apart.
So begins the compelling and gripping “Freud’s Last Session,” which runs through Nov. 11 at Mercury Theater in Chicago.
The gem of a play, subtly directed by Tyler Marchant, is the brainchild of Mark St. Germain.
He has written an intriguing work about a fictional meeting between Freud and C.S. Lewis, the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “The Screwtape Letters.”
At the time of the men’s meeting, though, Lewis’ major works are still in the future.
There is no evidence that the two intellectual giants ever met, but St. Germain pits the two historical figures against each other.
He likely thought their conflicting ideas would make for an exhilarating dramatic experience, which it does.
Lewis had converted recently from atheism to belief in God and had written a scathing article on Freud and his belief that science trumps the existence of God.
Curious to have a talk with Lewis, Freud invites the man for a visit.
The conflict that erupts between the two great minds makes for delicious ideological fireworks as Lewis and Freud battle over free will, good and evil, the meaning of life and the existence of God.
Their explosive conversation goes further than a discussion of ideas, though.
Here we see the humanity of the men as they take turns on Freud’s famous couch to discuss their own personal and psychological problems.
Lewis questions Freud’s desperate attachment to his daughter Anna, and Freud grills Lewis about his having lived with a woman who was old enough to be his mother but wasn’t his mother.
Of course, we’re treated to Freud’s theory that all psychological issues stem from sex, that all humans are bisexual and that God is a man-made myth.
The play is not just an intellectual exercise, though.
We see the humanity of the two men as Freud struggles with the oral cancer that will soon take his life and Lewis displays a Christian kindness as he comes to Freud’s aid.
The only thing missing from this intriguing work is the answer to the question that hangs in the air and permeates the show.
What was it exactly that transformed Lewis from atheist to believer?
It’s no fault of Coburn Goss, who does a fine job of portraying Lewis, that we never get a full explanation.
Indeed, Freud gets the best of Lewis in the drama. Maybe that’s because St. Germain tipped the scales in Freud’s favor, giving him the most penetrating and funny lines of dialogue in the show.
Or maybe it’s because Mike Nussbaum, a living legend in Chicago theater, delivers such an exquisite and masterful portrayal of Freud that he brings the character to flesh-and-blood life.
Those who believe that theater is at its best when it’s about ideas will relish this fascinating “Freud’s Last Session.”
Betty Mohr is a local freelance writer.