'Freud's Last Session' at Ashland Contemporary Theatre
The two men could not have been more dissimilar. Sigmund Freud was an outspoken atheist who lived to become an argumentative, cranky old man. C.S. Lewis was a romantic who rejected his own atheism at the age of 33. He became a devout Christian and a committed member of the Church of England and used his beliefs as themes in his writings.
What would a conversation between these two men, so widely different in philosophy and temperament, have been like?
"Freud’s Last Session," a play by Mark St. Germain, imagines a meeting between Freud, then 83, with a 41-year-old Lewis on Sept. 1, 1939, the day that Nazi Germany invades Poland and inevitably brings England into World War II. Lewis is puzzled at the invitation to meet, thinking that Freud is angry at Lewis’ mocking portrayal of him in a book. Instead, Lewis finds a self-doubting Freud who wants to discover the source of Lewis' unshakeable faith.
Freud, who recently escaped from the Nazis, is dying of a painful cancer in his jaw. Freud’s bitterness and despair contrasts with Lewis’ passionate optimism. The men find themselves debating whether God truly exists — and in the process wittily spar about sex, mortality, humor and music.
Ashland Contemporary Theatre will present "Freud’s Last Session" at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept 5, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, and 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, and Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 13-14, at the Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased online at
www.ashlandcontemporarytheatre.org, at Paddington Station in Ashland, Grocery Outlet in Medford, by calling 541-646-2971, or at the door.
ACT Artistic Director Emeritus Jeannine Grizzard directs "Freud’s Last Session." Joe Charter, a former Jackson County Circuit Court judge pro tem and current justice of the peace, plays Sigmund Freud. Grants Pass Barnstormer Theatre veteran Eric Epstein plays Lewis.
Charter has acted in a number of productions at Camelot Theatre and ACT.
Grizzard says "Freud's Last Session" was originally going to be a staged reading, but as cast members prepared, they realized it needed to be a full production.
"There is tremendous chemistry between Joe and Eric," Grizzard says. "They are finding the humor in the play and sparking off one another. The play is really a psychological portrait of Freud and Lewis.
"I want the audience to take away from this play the importance of keeping an open mind," Grizzard says. "This play is about pursuing a dialogue with your ideological opposition."
Grizzard says it has been a challenge to recreate Freud’s library on the small stage of the Ashland Community Center. The actors are using historically accurate props and costumes with minimal furniture. The library wall is a projection onto a screen at the back of the stage.
St. Germain based "Freud’s Last Session" on Armand M. Nicholi’s book "The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex and the Meaning of Life." For years, Nicholi had been teaching a course at Harvard that compared and contrasted the beliefs and philosophical writings of the two men. In "The Question of God," Nicholi placed the writings and letters of each man side by side. The book was the inspiration for a four-hour PBS documentary series of the same name produced by Boston’s WGBH in 2004.
"We’ve watched the documentary and read Nicholi’s book to prepare," Grizzard says. "The play’s dialogue actually uses quotes from the two men’s writings that appear in the book and the documentary."
"Freud’s Last Session" ran for two years off-Broadway in New York City and has been produced in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Washington, D.C., and at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.