Theater Notes: Theater that confronts, charms and matters
I like theater that matters. I won’t review farce and I avoid pap, when I can. Lucky me, I spend the summer in Massachusetts, within driving distance of the Berkshires, a place in New England loaded with theater that matters, a kind of heaven for serious theater-goers.
In a past summer one of the plays that got the best reviews, and drew sellout crowds, was “Freud’s Last Session” by the gifted playwright Mark St. Germain. I tried to see it. But when I was available, it was sold out. Now I really know why.
We are lucky to be on our island right now because the BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater has brought us a first-rate production of this totally enthralling play.
The simple plot is that C.S. Lewis, author of the world renowned fiction pieces “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Space Trilogy,” but also famous for his non-fiction pieces of Christian apologetics, “Miracles” and “The Problem With Pain,” asks Freud for a chance to talk with him, to ask him some questions. Freud is 83, dying from cancer of the mouth, fragile and in great pain, yet intrigued, says yes.
Now this is fictional, but what ensues comes awful close to what might really have happened, Mark St. Germain is that good a playwright. The time is Sept. 3, 1939. The set design by Adam Trummel is perfect, capturing in bold, giant photographs and paintings, that time in London and Freud’s study, couch and all.
We have a famous, devout Jewish atheist refugee from Austria, and an outstanding English intellectual who is a world renowned converted Christian.
Well, all hell breaks out as they battle the apparent absurdity they see in each other’s stands on religion, death, the afterlife, on truth and hidden doubts.
I assure you no one fell asleep in that audience. It was gripping, filled with wit and marvelous teasing. One example was after a false air raid, sirens blaring, gas masks reached for, racing to get to the air-raid shelter, Freud the atheist says when it was over: “Thank, God no one was killed.” Lewis just grins.
And in that we see steps towards the unfolding of their mutual humanness, set against the background of the very day that Hitler invades Poland and Freud’s enormous pain from the prostheses in his mouth, the inevitable death that leaves him convinced he will commit suicide rather than be a burden on his wife and daughter. Lewis is compelled to talk him out of that.
After you’ve seen “Freud’s Last Session,” I know you won’t regret coming, because I’ll defy you to think of any other conversation you’ve been part of or overheard that had the magic of these two authentic geniuses in argument. Questions were asked that will haunt you. Stories told that will confront things you believe in. For example, it turns out they both despised their fathers. I could feel the fathers in the audience stewing on that one.
Credit certainly goes to the two fine performances by the men who crawled so deeply into their portrayals of Lewis and Freud. Victor Legarreta as C.S. Lewis, and Skip Corris as Sigmund Freud, were thrilling.
I send an extra accolade to a S.W. Florida Queen of Theater, the versatile and multi-talented Rachael Endrizzi, who directed the great piece of writing she was handed, and made it into the brilliant production on that stage right now. In her director’s notes, she quotes Freud: “Civilization began the first time an angry person cast a word instead of a rock.”
The play certainly cast some powerful words. I encourage you to come out to support a play for serious theater-goers. It’s theater I believe in because it does confront and challenge, yet it also does it with real charm and a deep intelligence. Hurry. I anticipate tickets will be hard to get if you postpone. It’s due for a sellout.
“Freud’s Last Session” plays at 7:30 p.m through Jan. 17. Call the boxoffice at (239) 472-6862, or bigarts.org.
I may see you there. I liked it so much, I’m eager to see it again. Of course, I’m a serious theater-goer. I hope you are, too.