In Freud's Last Session, playwright Mark St. Germain draws his inspiration from a book of philosophy entitled The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate Love, God, Sex and the Meaning of Life. The book's title can also serve as an accurate summary of the entire play, now in performances by always accomplished Fusion Theatre Company.
Dr. Armand Nicholi, the author of St. Germain's heavily leaned-upon source material, argues that Lewis and Freud, two of the greatest minds of the 20th century, offered two diametrically opposed, yet equally rational, interpretations of the human experience. Freud's devout atheism was countered by Lewis' cogent Christian argument. St. Germain takes it one step further with a fictionalized meeting between the two. Though Freud and Lewis' work offer spirited counters to one another, in real life the two never met. Lewis was still a young man when Freud was in his final years, ravaged by the oral cancer which would finally take his life.
“... The play focuses exclusively on the two men's opposing views on love, God, sex and the meaning of life.”
But St. Germain sets his invented encounter in September of 1939, as Britain is on the precipice of entering World War II, just weeks before Freud's death. That Freud and Lewis only just overlap as contemporaries now intensifies the debate: as they argue about life and death, Freud is literally in the last days of his, while Lewis is at the beginning of his own. Britain's entry into the war also gives Freud's questions on the nature and existence of God special significance. Christ's teachings, he argues, are a practical impossibility. Should Poland—and the world—“turn the other cheek” at Hitler's advances?
Both men lay out their their arguments rationally and methodically. Lewis postulates that our yearning for something “which no experience in this world can satisfy,” must mean that we are made for another world. Freud counters that this sense of yearning is just a construct of complicated human mind. Back and forth they go, parrying ideas. In fact, there is very little here of dramatic tension or depth of characters: It is all about the reasoned debate. We catch a few glimpses of Freud's humanity—due in large part to Gregory Wagrowski's fine performance—as he grapples with the excruciating pain of his cancer and his impending death. But for the most part, the play focuses exclusively on the two men's opposing views on love, God, sex and the meaning of life.
Freud's Last Session is, at its heart, just this: an exchange of ideas, rather than a real story with a clear narrative goal. Fusion Theatre Company has mounted a capable production with performances by both Wagrowski and Scott Harrison as C.S. Lewis that are, as always, top tier. But, while both characters talk about the joy of human existence, that joy is never actually experienced or embodied. In the end, Freud is a provocative yet unusual thing: A play for people who don't like plays, for those who prefer linear, straightforward rationale to dramatic interpretation.