I certainly am not qualified to write a critical review of any play or stage production, but I do know what I like and I do recognize excellence when I see it. Last night, Patty and I went to the Alley Theater downtown Houston to see a play that had peaked my interest a few months back. This was a two man play on a stage ‘in the round’ so to speak, though the stage was actually square, just to be accurate. It was ‘Freud’s Last Session’ , a play by Mark St. Germain with actors James Black playing the part of Dr. Sigmund Freud, and Jay Sullivan as C. S. Lewis. As advertised on the webpage:
Freud’s Last Session centers on legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud who invites a little-known professor C.S. Lewis (who later wrote the children’s classic The Chronicles of Narnia), to his home in London. Lewis, expecting to be called on the carpet for satirizing Freud in a recent book, soon realizes Freud has a much more significant agenda. On the day England enters World War II, Freud and Lewis clash on the existence of God, love, sex, and the meaning of life. “The humor is plentiful” (The New York Times) in this “thrilling” (Variety) tête-à-tête.
The Neuhaus Stage, the smaller of the two theaters in the Alley, holds about 200 people. No sooner had we all taken our seats when a representative for the theater gave us a brief welcome and update on renovations that are planned for the next year and then, the play began.
As the description says, this was a debate between Sigmund Freud and athiest turned Christian, C.S. Lewis. The play lasted about an hour and 15 minutes – no intermission and no Act II. It’s non-stop, on the edge of your seat, verbal volleyball, back and forth by two actors who never slipped up once. Their timing and their delivery was so perfect that I felt like I was actually experiencing the panic from the air raid sirens, or the urgency of what Winston Churchill was saying on the radio or the crushing pain that Dr. Freud endured from his battle with cancer that was spreading through his jaw and sinus cavity.
Going to the theater is a very different form of entertainment and is an art form of it’s own. A movie – you can walk out of. You can go get more popcorn and sip on your Coke. But a play – there is a much stricter protocol. You sit. You place all of your attention on the stage and the actors. You focus intently on the dialog and you examine the actors faces for validity, for confirmation, for verification that the words match the emotion. Acting on a live stage is original and demanding. There’s no second chances. Either you do it good, or you fail and the play ends in disaster. It requires discipline not only from the actors but from the audience as well. That’s why going to a play isn’t for everybody. You have to behave. You have to concentrate. You have to think!
It’s like this: Lots of people have been served a glass of the house red wine in a restaurant and said, “Blech. I guess I don’t like red wine”. They’ve never experienced the proper selection of a wine, the ceremony and presentation of that wine, the aroma and finally, the rich flavors as they develop and unfold in your mouth. So to those people who’ve seen the kids at church do a Christmas skit or a high school production of The Fantastics and decided that they don’t really care for theater, I’d invite them to give this play a shot. This is an excellent vintage with notes of blackberry and chocolate up front and then finishes with echos of plum and saddle leather and coffee. This is a good bottle of red wine!
Freud invites Lewis to his London home to discuss the book Lewis has just released. Together, the two duel over God, Christianity, Jews, history, war, Nazi’s, fathers, broken homes, hope, despair, illness, happiness, love and sex. In the end….well…….I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. Discussing a play afterwards is half of the fun of going, isn’t it?
I loved it. I highly recommend it. And I commend both James Black and Jay Sullivan for their exceptional performances as they sucked me into their world and lived what they were living, thought what they were thinking, and pondered all that they laid out for us on that tiny stage. Bravo!