Saturday, January 1, 2011

Review by Irv Rikon: FREUD'S LAST SESSION at Palm Beach Dramaworks



Freud's Last Session, by Mark St. Germain, to be seen at PALM BEACH DRAMAWORKS' current home on Banyan Street in West Palm Beach, is a short, well-crafted one-act play. It takes place in Sigmund Freud's study in London during the opening days of World War Two, specifically, September 3, 1939. Freud, world-renowned father of psychoanalysis and author, has fled from his home in Austria to escape the Nazis. Born Jewish and persecuted for it, Freud has become an atheist.

To his home comes a visitor, youthful C.S. Lewis, a British professor who was an atheist and has now formally converted to Christianity. In time, long after the events of this day have passed, Lewis would be recognized as a highly prolific author of books, both fiction and non-fiction, primarily on the subject of Christianity. He was a popularizer of Christian thought.

Unfortunately, I have to interject a bit of myself into this play review. Although I'm an Arts and Entertainment writer and have been so for some 40-odd years, I am primarily an educator and lecturer. Among subjects I have taught and continue to teach are all the Great Religions.

For me, then, this play, viewed as a debate between two great intellectuals, is frankly superficial. If you want a contemporary atheist's view of life and deity, read Stephen Dawkins, prominent scientist turned atheist-popularizer. Supporters of religious faith would do well to read the books of Karen Armstrong, former nun who determined she could be of more use to God by leaving the convent and working outside the church. She writes, as I teach, on all religions.

The play is very well directed by William Hayes and is very well acted by Dennis Creaghan as Freud and Christopher Oden as Lewis. Mr. Creaghan is much better served by the playwright's script. Freud is dying of cancer, coughing, spitting up blood; his impending death and the bombing of wartime London are the play's dramatic highlights, the play being otherwise a verbal joust. As it is, all Lewis can do is sympathize and offer help to his poor host.

It should be noted that following World War Two's Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed, many survivors became atheists. How could it happen? How could a good and just God allow it to happen? During the Cold War period, a similar thing happened in Cambodia, a country where almost all the people are Buddhists. Following The Killing Fields, where Pol Pot's Khymer Rouge slaughtered one million of their own countrymen, many survivors came to doubt God's existence.

Yet to this day countless millions of believers in God across the globe find comfort, inspiration, hope and joy in their belief. Sociologists have determined that those who do believe tend to live longer than those who doubt. Many believers are passionate in their belief. I don't mean militant. I mean, to use a religious term, they feel God with "heart and soul."

Lack of passion on the part of C.S. Lewis is what I most find lacking in Mr. St. Germain's play-script.

Freud is dying. He's suffers great physical pain and emotional stress. The world to him understandably looks bleak, and he lets that be known. But where is C.S. Lewis to state the counter-argument that no matter how dark the world may appear, there is light yet to come? I'm not arguing Lewis' case here. But if his play is to be balanced, the playwright should just as passionately argue the case for God as well as he does the case for God's absence.

I think that most audiences will like the play as it stands. I like this production: I could fall in love with Michael Amico's set design -- but I find the play somewhat disturbing for the things it doesn't say.

The play runs through February 6. For tickets and additional information about this and forthcoming plays, the popular Master Playwright Series and other events, telephone 514-4042 or online:

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