A stimulating ‘Freud’s Last Session’ at the Public’s Cellar Theater

Freud’s Last Session, the popular off-Broadway play by Mark St. Germain, comes to the Public’s Cellar Theater in a well-mounted and intellectually stimulating production.

The two-hander visualizes a meeting between two titans of thought: the psychoanalyst and devout atheist Sigmund Freud (Wesley Deitrick) and the theologian C.S. Lewis (John Stillwaggon).

Freud’s Last Session takes place at the man’s London office at the dawn of England’s entrance into World War II. Intrigued by Lewis’s writings (this was before he began his Narnia series), Freud has summoned him from Oxford to argue about his religious beliefs.

John Stillwaggon as C.S. Lewis and Wesley Deitrick as Sigmund Freud in Freud’s Last Session, now playing at the Public’s Cellar Theater (photo: Siggi Ragnar).

“I want to learn why a man of your intellect, one who shared my convictions, could suddenly abandon truth and embrace an insidious lie,” Freud bluntly states.

Lewis counters with the idea that the denial of God’s existence can be just as powerful as believing. What follows is a lively debate about faith, family and sexuality.

Their sparring is interrupted by real-life circumstances. Freud is afflicted with terminal mouth cancer, making it agonizing every time he speaks — but he can’t stop voicing his thoughts. Also, the air raid sirens and grim radio broadcasts from Neville Chamberlain about Hitler’s approaching Luftwaffe bring real horror.

Clocking in at an efficient 72 minutes, Freud’s Last Session provides an intimate glimpse into the thought processes of these notables.

Deitrick is sensational as the cranky but inquisitive Freud. He is well-matched by Stillwaggon as the younger Lewis, who offers cocky retorts to every argument until his compassion is awakened by Freud’s obvious suffering.

What’s always great about the shows at the intimate Cellar space is that they are just as carefully crafted as those staged in the larger Russell Hill Rogers theater upstairs. Jeremy Whittington’s scenic design of Freud’s London artifact-strewn office looks terrific, and it’s supported by the typically excellent lighting by Dan “Doc” Heggem and Jesse Worley’s peerless sound design. The costumes by Sara Brookes are also spot-on, and David Rinear’s direction is seamless.

Freud’s Last Session plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through May 12 at the Cellar Theater, 800 W. Ashby Pl. Reservations can be made online or by calling (210) 733-7258.

 

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