If You’re Near New York City, Here’s a Show Not to Be Missed: Freud’s Last Session

If You’re Near New York City, Here’s a Show Not to Be Missed: Freud’s Last Session October 12, 2011

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.

Mark H. Dold (as C.S. Lewis) and Martin Rayner (as Sigmund Freud) in an intense conversation in Freud's study.

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.

From left: Mark H. Dold (Lewis), Martin Rayner (Freud), Mark Roberts (as a neurotic who needed treatment by Freud)

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.

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  • Evan


    Having read C.S. Lewis’s collected correspondence, I would suggest that as between the two, you might get more therapeutic benefit consulting with Lewis as opposed to Freud. I think Lewis’ worldview would also lead to more practical solutions in many instances. As it was once put, people feel guilty because they ARE guilty, and the only cure is the Atonement of Christ.

    You have certainly piqued my interest in this show. It certainly has the potential to be a fascinating barn-burner. Lewis was gregarious and inquisitive, but he had a low tolerance for pomposity and illogic, so the possibilities of him interacting with Freud are appealing.

    As a side note, while I realize that Freud once said that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” I have often asked folks how they thought Freud would interpret the dream of Pharoah’s cup-bearer in Genesis 40:  9 So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”

    Let’s just say that Freud’s interpretation may have been different than Joseph’s. 🙂


  • Loriok

    Left NY in 1970 and never been back. Will happen to be there at the end of this month for 1st time. Funny thing, I recently made a fb request only to my few NY pals what I might do/see while there in town. Guess you got the memo anyhow, so I made reservations! 🙂 And lol, I can’t wait to see the soul of C.S. Lewis poured into the likes of Don Draper; and watch him mop the floor with Dr. Freud. Heaven! 😉

  • Anonymous

    Evan: You crack me up. Yes, Lewis was no fan of Freud. I don’t know if Freud read Lewis. It would have been fascinating to watch a real conversation between these two.

  • Anonymous

    Lori: NY is amazingly different today. When I was there in the 70s and 80s, it was a scary, dirty place (at least a lot of it). For example, drug dealers operated openly in Washington Square. Today, there are no drug dealers there. There are lots of families, students, musicians, and people of all kinds, but nothing scary or illegal. This is pretty much true all over New York. I’d rather be walking the streets of New York at midnight than the streets of just about any other city anywhere.

  • Loriok

    other than hippies with hypodermics, it was mostly clean when I left it. 🙂 
    I remember being appalled and disgusted seeing photos of graffiti covered trains just a few years later. (and I even have a major space in my heart for city graffiti artists!)
    Um, sadly I agree, I’ll take “NY’s finest” any day of the week, any hour of the day, over the weird culture of my own OC’s Sheriff Dept. with less ego, less to prove, are more secure in their personal authority, and exhibit better discernment between what is a common thief and the mentally disabled and the amount of force required getting at the truth. Thanks!

  • Nancye

    I am thrilled you made it! Did Nathan get to go too?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, indeed.

  • Dan Styer

    From “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life”, by Dr. Armand Nicholi, (Free Press, 2002) Prologue, page 7

    “Most of us make one of two basic assumptions: we view the universe as a result of random events and life on this planet a matter of chance; or we assume an Intelligence beyond the universe who gives the universe order, and life meaning.”

    This is a false dichotomy, very much as if I claimed “You’re either in Boston or in Los Angeles”.

    Science doesn’t view the universe as “a result of random events” — in fact, it views the universe as highly structured and correlated. Without this structure and correlation, there would be no possibility of scientific law. Nor does science regard life on this planet a matter of chance — natural selection exerts firm, unyielding, and non-random pressure towards adaptation, and the random elements of evolution are minor. Science is consistent with “an Intelligence beyond the universe”, because science has nothing to say one way or the other about things “beyond the universe”. Science cannot answer questions such as “What is the good life?”, “What is the character of justice?”, “With whom should I fall in love?”, or “What should be my favorite color?”.

    The universe certainly has order and I believe deeply that life has meaning. The source of this order and meaning is an opinion not susceptible to either proof or to disproof. The existence of order and meaning does not require us to believe in “an Intelligence beyond the universe”.