by Clark Groome
When Sigmund Freud and Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis meet in Freud’s London flat the day England entered World War II sparks were bound to fly. As imagined by playwright Mark St. Germain in “Freud’s Last Session,” playing through Dec. 23 at the Arden Theatre, that conversation ranges from science to religion to love and, of course, to sex. The sparks are plentiful.
It’s an exhilarating verbal battle that plays against the real battle going on as Hitler’s Nazis invade Poland and the Brits ready themselves for the blitz to come.
How can God allow all these horrible things to happen? Don’t we grow through suffering? Why does religion embrace science but not the other way around? Isn’t God a myth just designed to explain the inexplicable? Doesn’t science try to define feelings and emotions in ways that take all the spontaneity and joy out of life?
Those questions, and many others, fill the Arden’s Arcadia Stage for one of the most intellectually stimulating 75 minutes I’ve spent in the theater in a long time.
David Howey’s Freud and Todd Scofield’s C.S. Lewis are both magnificent in capturing the depth and subtleties of their arguments, which are both well thought out and open to challenge and change.
Long-time Philadelphia actor Ian Merrill Peakes, who played Lewis in a production of the play in New Hampshire, makes his directing debut with the Arden production. From all the evidence available here, he’s as good a director as he is an actor, and he’s a very good actor, indeed.
The play is staged in David P. Gordon’s stunning set that Freud, who is dying of mouth cancer, says his daughter designed to look like the Austrian office he had to flee to get away from the Nazis. The other good designers are Katherine Fritz (costumes), James Leitner (lighting) and Jorge Cousineau (the vital and imaginative sound).
“Freud’s Last Session” does what theater does at its best: it makes you think. There are probably very few issues raised in the play that you have not pondered yourself. But “Freud’s Last Session” makes you revisit them and gives you smart, challenging arguments and points-of-view to help you deal with ideas that are, literally, matters of life and death.
And by the way, Freud does smoke a cigar during the play, a reminder that sometimes a cigar’s just a cigar, and at others it has a much more carnal meaning.
It’s quite an evening.
For tickets to the Arden Theatre Company’s production of “Freud’s Last Session,” playing through Dec. 23, call 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org