Thoughts & Musings

2nd Story’s Freud a play about big ideas

It's a smart but accessible conversation about big ideas, about love, sex and the existence of God. It’s a play about what it’s like when two great, curious minds come together.

by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
  • 9th June 20149/06/14
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If you liked Ed Shea in “Sylvia,” A.R. Gurney’s charming tale about a man and his dog, you’re going to love him in “Freud’s Last Session,” where a very different Ed Shea channels the famed psychoanalyst.

It’s only been  a little more than a month since Shea played Greg, the middle-age dog lover in “Sylvia.” But he is now a generation older, a small but imposing man in the final days of his life wondering what it’s all about.

Shea’s Freud is dying of oral cancer in London on the eve of World War II, after being forced to flee the Nazis.  He is stooped and frail, overcome at times by fits of coughing, and smarting from the pain from a prosthesis in his jaw.

It’s a stunning performance, one that blends resignation and defiance, acceptance and doubt, as Shea manages to conjure the ghost of Freud. In real life, he doesn’t look anything like Feud, but on stage, with graying hair, beard and spectacles, he is Freud.

The premise of this hour-long play by Mark St. Germain is an imagined meeting between Freud, a avowed atheist, and British novelist and critic  C.S. Lewis, a one-time atheist who had undergone a religious conversion.

What follows is a smart but accessible conversation about big ideas, about love, sex and the existence of God. It’s a play about what it’s like when two great, curious minds come together.

It might have been all the smarter, though, had St. Germain made Lewis a more enlightened Christian.  He comes across as embracing a pretty traditional notion of God in His heaven, as opposed to God being  just plain inconceivable, a notion Freud might have gotten.

And while we have a sense that Freud wanted to speak with Lewis because he was genuinely interested in his conversion, the petulant doctor is unwilling to listen to what he has to say without  launching into cough-laden rants.

He mocks the teachings of Jesus, asking if the Poles are supposed to turn their other cheek to the Germans, who just invaded their land. Religion, for Freud, is a form of neurosis. Why is Jesus thinking that he’s the son of God any different from all his patients who think they’re Jesus?

It took me a while to warm up to Wayne Kneeland’s Lewis, who just didn’t seem like an intellectual powerhouse at first. But somehow he grew on me, as he became more the understanding apologist.

The play, directed with care by Pat Hegnauer, is set in Freud’s London study, a sumptuous room designed by Karl Pelletier, with a wall stuffed with books and that famous couch. When Lewis starts to sit there, Freud directs him elsewhere. But as Freud begins his interrogation, Kneeland’s Lewis says, “I see it makes no difference that I didn’t pick the couch.”

This meeting between Freud and Lewis has the feel of a  sparring match at times, with Freud scoring points early on,  and Lewis coming on strong as the conversation progresses.

Freud, it turns out,  does not pick up a Bible at the end of the show. But he has softened. He is open to embracing what he can’t rationalize through science, left with the feeling of the unexplainable,  which is sort of what God is all about, if you ask me.

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