‘Freud’s Last Session’ An Intriguing Dialogue Between Hope and Gloom (4 Stars)

By Michele Markarian

 

‘Freud’s Last Session - Written by Mark St. Germain. Directed by Jim Petosa; Scenic Design by Christina Todesco; Costume Design by Molly Trainer; Lighting Design by Scott Pinkney; Sound Design by David Remedios. Presented by New Repertory Theatre at The Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA through May 22.

 

The New Repertory Theater’s themed season of “Identity” has been refreshingly thought provoking, to say the least. “Freud’s Last Session”, which closes the season, is no exception.  Imagine a singular meeting between two brilliant 20th century thinkers, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, debating the existence of God, the use of religion and the pleasures of sex, and you have “Freud’s Last Session”. Although neither man succeeds in robbing the other of his beliefs, between the two viewpoints, one has a sense of the whole.

 

When the play begins, World War II is about to begin, while Freud (Joel Colodner) is at the end of his life.  He has mouth cancer, and with it, an ill-fitting and painful artificial jaw. Lewis (Shelley Bolman) is years younger. He has published a piece of fiction called “The Pilgrim’s Regress”, where Freud is satirized as a character, and has the decency to feel embarrassed about it. Freud, on the other hand, is wryly dismissive; not only has he been attacked by much bigger fish, he hasn’t even read the book. For the next 75 minutes, the two men exchange questions and ideas in an attempt to change and understand the other, unmasking themselves in the process. 

 

Colodner’s Freud is angry and hurt, concealing wounds from a lifetime of suffering with his sharp and fierce intellect, his desire to label and examine and dissect. As he tells Lewis, “Things are simple only when you choose not to examine them”.  He vacillates between lashing out and scientific detachment. Freud can’t believe in a God that would cause such suffering. As if to punctuate his point, he periodically turns on the radio, which broadcasts reports of heightened aggression by the Germans. 

 

Bolman’s Lewis is less sorrowful, although no less a life free from pain. His mother died when he was nine, and he wasn’t close to his father. A lover of nature, he experienced a conversion to Christianity while riding in the sidecar of his brother’s motorbike. Bolman plays Lewis with a sense of childlike wonder. He and Colodner are fascinating to watch – Bolman light and joyful while Colodner is dark and fearful.  Jim Petosa’s direction has them circling each other with aggression, sarcasm, humor, and ultimately, affection.

 

Cristina Todesco’s set is quite frankly, a masterpiece that gets right under the skin and into the mind and heart of the play. A large, layered spiral encompasses the stage and frames Freud’s intimate study, suggesting the very nature of a journey, the cycle of life, and search for divination. When Freud snaps on the radio, a back panel opens to reveal a screen with footage of the developing war, in tandem with the audio report. The study is warmly furnished with the standard couch, a few chairs, and a desk conversely armored with Eastern religious figures.

 

“Why did the playwright write this play?” I found myself thinking, as the men’s endless sparring circled, went nowhere, circled again.  But it was an interesting ride, and the level of intimacy they achieve with one another by the end, the trust of the faithless to the faithful, is worth witnessing. For more info, go to:  http://www.newrep.org/productions/freuds-last-session/