Two eminent men with widely opposing views sit down in the same room to discuss their differences in front of an audience. Sound like a presidential debate? If only! Instead, it’s another day of rehearsal for Freud’s Last Session, in which two of the most brilliant minds of the last century engage in illuminating, thought-provoking conversation.
In my view, working in theatre is always a joy and a privilege. Whether it’s an all-singing, all-dancing cast of fifty, or an intimate two-man drama like this one, watching any play come to life is a magical and absorbing experience. From the first rolling-up of sleeves for the read-through, to the beginnings of tentative movement within the carefully marked-out rehearsal space, to the moment when the play starts to breathe on its own, every hour reveals endless riches, great and small.
Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to assist the director for San Jose Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production of Freud’s Last Session. This show, which tells of a fictional meeting in November 1939 between confirmed atheist Sigmund Freud and recent religious convert C. S. Lewis, offers more than theatrical magic. It offers up questions which have challenged men and women through the ages. Who was Christ? If God exists, why does He inflict pain? Does man have an innate moral conscience? Sometimes, listening to the actors exploring the text, I feel as if I’m back in college, in one of those three-o’clock-in-the-morning conversations, when we sat on the floor and earnestly hammered out the meaning of life (although I suspect we were never this erudite).
But even though the two characters stand on opposing sides, there is an overwhelming sense of human connection. At one point, Freud loses his patience with Lewis: “You believe in revelation; I believe in science… there is no common ground.” Perhaps theoretically, there is not. But through the warmth and humor of their debate, conducted on the eve of a national crisis by two men who sincerely want to understand each other, there is certainly a coming together in friendship.
As students, we also made those connections. But somehow as adults, they seem much more rare. Part of theatre’s enduring power lies in its ability to stimulate discussion during a shared experience. As I sit in the rehearsal room enjoying the cut-and-thrust of the argument, I can’t help but think that Freud’s Last Session is exactly the kind of meaningful debate we should all be having.
For more details on Freud’s Last Session by Mark St Germain, click here!