Saturday, March 10, 2012

Theatre review: "Freud's Last Session" at Pittsburgh Public Theater. Sunday 11th March 2012

You’re in for a thought-provoking experience dropping in on Freud’s Last Session at Pittsburgh Public Theater. And it may seem like a dropping in, as if a visit to or a witness of a lively encounter between two significant real people coming together to debate the existence of God and such connected issues as the meaning of life, love, sex, war, suffering. It is called a play, of course. A play of minds would be a more precise definition, since it is actually a dramatization of the essence of Dr. Armand M. Nicholi Jr.’s book, The Question of God , juxtaposing writings of Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis on such subjects,as if they were conversing.

And the actors portraying these men superbly make them seem totally real. Mark St. Germain’s well-written, perceptive, intelligent script also keeps them vividly alive, during their sometimes amusing, sometimes dramatic 80 minutes together. Moreover St. Germain intensifies the meaning of this imagined meeting while the British prepare for the inevitable horrors of World War II and while Freud ponders ending his 83 years of existence.

The script does not attempt to support or endorse one man’s thinking over the other’s on any disputed subject, no more, evidently, than does the book. But it does make both men seem not just articulate,serious thinkers but also quite human, especially given Freud’s suffering the visible pain of progressively more deadly cancer. Among other things they also compare their childhoods, finding communality. And, along the way, they almost bond, despite deep,vigorously debated philosophical differences,never attacking each other personally.

David Wohl’s version of Freud capably personifies the man’s devotion to reason in whom there is a passion for ideas but whose other emotions remain masked by intelligence. Meanwhile, as Lewis, Jonathan Crombie excellently makes it clear that the man is vulnerable to being swayed by feelings, consistent with the idea that Lewis came to his belief in God in an epiphany. Credit too director Mary B. Robinson for bringing that out. Meanwhile her hand is never obvious as the actors move with unforced naturalness.

The setting is Freud’s study in London, imaginatively conceived by Allen Moyer as framed by a stunning tower of books, symbolic, no doubt, of centuries of accumulated thinking about the issues in this discourse. The rest of the set, appropriately, is never cluttered,as if to emulate the clarity of the minds active in it.It likewise adds to a sense of truth, even if such human searches for ultimate truth will never find definitive resolution. After all, how can the causes for religious faith be proved? And yet,how can they be denied?

Freud’s Last Session continues through April 1st at Pittsburgh Public Theater’s O’Reilly Theater 621 Penn Avenue, downtown. 412/ 316 1600

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