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By Martin F. Kohn
In “Freud’s Last Session,” Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, a couple of intellectual .400 hitters, have a highly entertaining, wide-ranging philosophical discussion, an elevated version of what might take place in a dorm room around midnight abetted by a bottle or two of cheap wine.
Whether the two thinkers ever actually met – it’s possible – is immaterial. Playwright Mark St. Germain embraces the idea, and the result is a lively 75 minutes on stage with much to contemplate and a surprisingly large amount of drama and humor.
The time is Sept. 3, 1939, the very beginning of World War II; the place is Freud’s study in London. Lewis hasn’t come to be psychoanalyzed (he conspicuously avoids Freud’s famous couch). The elderly, terminally ill psychiatrist has invited the youngish Oxford professor over to talk about religion.
Ostensibly, the chief topic of their conversation is whether God exists. Freud says no, Lewis says yes, and this will not be the only subject on which they hold differing views. Up for discussion are the purpose of evil, the concept of shame, the nature of happiness, whether or not suicide is sinful, the significance of music, why humor works (or doesn’t) and, yes, where exactly sex belongs in all of this.
Somewhere in there St. Germain has Freud say, “I always consider what people tell me less important than what they cannot.” And what St. Germain shows us without saying it is that despite strong differences on most things that matter, here are two people whose mutual respect and innate kindness trumps everything.
“Freud’s Last Session” is in its second year off-Broadway. The new production at Detroit’s Century Theatre, with the same director (Tyler Marchant), set designer (Brian Prather) and costume designer (Mark Mariani), is pretty much a carbon copy of the excellent New York production. The stage here appears to be slightly smaller and less open on either side; patrons seated way over on the right (stage left) won’t see Freud’s window with its lovely view. Fortunately, Marchant keeps his actors away from the window.
They – Mitch Greenberg as Freud, Cory Krebsbach as Lewis – turn in complete and credible performances. Their accents – Greenberg’s Germanic, Krebsbach’s British – are consistent, and each man contributes something extra. During an air raid warning Krebsbach’s Lewis manages to look irked with his face covered by a gas mask. Greenberg’s Freud gestures in such a manner that his hands can be described in no way other than kindly.
‘Freud’s Last Session’
Century Theatre, 333 Madison St., Detroit. Wednesday-Sunday through Nov. 20. $39.50 – $44.50. 313-963-9800. http://www.gemtheatre.com