No, I’m not referring to Broadway hits like Billy Elliot, The Book of Mormon, or Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Rather, I’m speaking of a just-off-Broadway masterpiece, Freud’s Last Session. This superb play ought not to be missed.
Warning: There is no sex in Freud’s Last Session, though it gets ample attention in the dialogue, as you might imagine. (And Dr. Ruth was in the audience when I saw the play. No joke!) No songs are sung, though a radio occasionally plays music, which turns out to have unexpected significance. There is no action to speak of, other than walking, sitting, and occasional lying down on the stereotypical Freudian couch. In fact, there are only two actors in this drama, one playing the role of Sigmund Freud, the other as C.S. Lewis. The play is a conversation between these two men, and that’s about it.
Yet, it is one of the most engaging pieces of dramatic art I have seen in a while. It made me think. It made me feel. I found myself choked up in points and inspired in other points.
Freud’s Last Session is based on the work of Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Nicholi, who for more than 35 years taught courses at Harvard on Freud and Lewis, eventually put his thoughts in a book entitled The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. (Tomorrow, I’ll share an ironic and amusing story of my own interaction with Dr. Nicholi when I was in college.)
Playwright Mark St. Germain used Nicholi’s book as a basis for the script of Freud’s Last Session. His writing captures well the ideas of Freud and Lewis, especially their disagreements, but also points of surprising agreement.
The actors for this play did a magnificent job. Martin Rayner captures Freud wonderfully. He even looks quite a bit like the elderly Freud. At first, I wasn’t sure my mind would let Mark H. Dold become C.S. Lewis because, frankly, Dold is much better looking that Lewis was. But Dold’s strong performance allowed me to suspend my disbelief. I found myself watching Rayner and Dold as if they really were Freud and Lewis.
The play is not simply a debate between these two men of great learning. Yes, there is an active interchange of ideas. But their conversation is much more than a dispassionate intellectual exchange. It becomes a deeply personal interaction between two brilliant, wounded, and profoundly human people.
Freud’s Last Session is a 75-minute drama that is now playing at the New World Stages (340 West 50th Street, between 8th & 9th Ave.). You can purchase tickets at the box office or online. So, if you’re anywhere near New York City, or will be in the months ahead, do yourself a favor and see this thought-provoking, moving play.