Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 12, 2009

Freud’s Last Session

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
run extended through October 4, 2009
by Shera Cohen

It was a wise decision to bring encore performances of “Freud’s Last Session” – the play which kicked-off Barrington Stage’s 2009 season – back to complete the company’s summer months of plays. Another excellent choice was to mount “Freud” at Stage 2 located a few blocks from the Mainstage. This intimate theatre with its smaller stage and fewer seats is ideal for the audience to closely eavesdrop on the conversations of Dr. Sigmund Freud and author C.S. Lewis. While Freud and Lewis probably never met in 1939 (the play’s time) or at any other time, does not matter. Their discussion, which is the script, is timeless.

Born a Jew, Freud was a staunch atheist eager to preach his beliefs. Lewis, on the other hand, was a steadfast Christian. Lewis enters the study of the eminent, elderly, and dying Freud, and their 80-minute conversation starts. A one-act play, with only two characters, one of whom audience members might not know (Lewis wrote “The Chronicles of Narnia”), arguing the merits of religion as well as life vs. suicide could easily become a snoozer. Excellent acting, directing, pace, humor, and setting (yes, the couch was ever present) keeps the verbal action intelligent and quick like a fine game of chess.

Martin Rayner’s Freud is sick with incurable cancer, yet still brilliant and witty. The actor, perhaps half the age of Freud at 83, truly fleshes out the doctor. Yes, there is mention of psychoanalysis and sex, but the audience observes far more about Freud as a husband, father, and atheist.

Mark H. Dold (a regular at Barrington) portrays Lewis as unassertive, not yet famous, and intimidated by the renowned Freud. Yet, he grows -- through posture, voice, and physical proximity to Freud -- as a man to be reckoned with. Rather than adversaries, the two men become respectful debaters.

The trappings of the period set, along with sounds of airplane bombers and radio broadcasts of caution, are seen and heard throughout the play. Kudos to the backstage crew.