Religion vs. Science. Psychology vs. Faith. Such is the debate of the ages and specifically of two of the greatest minds of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud with almost polar opposite attitudes. And such is the topic of the west coast premiere of the Off-Broadway hit "Freud's Last Session" currently playing at Taproot Theatre. An interesting discussion of two iconic figures but unfortunately not really enough variety to sustain for an evening.
It's London 1939, the bombs could start to drop any minute and noted psychoanalyst and staunch atheist, Sigmund Freud, has invited the young rising Christian writer C.S. Lewis to tea. Lewis thinks he's there to answer to a parody of Freud from one of his novels but Freud really just wants to find out why this former atheist suddenly has embraced the dogma that Freud himself has rejected. At least that's the premise of the play. This meeting probably never really happened but that is the scenario put forth by author Mark St. Germain. At times funny and at others touching, this philosophical conversation is the entirety of this one act play. And while it has its moments it seemed to drone on in circles and never really got anywhere. No, I didn't really expect to have the secrets of the universe spelled out and resolved for me in this one night but I was hoping for more that the same conversation you could hear being bandied about at your local Starbucks. Nothing really new or intriguing came from it so I wonder why this play is such a hit.
OK, so the script didn't thrill me but what of the performers. It's incredibly tough to sell and keep interesting a show with only two characters in a conversation. And while the performers manage their characters with grace and ease, they seem to lack the variety to keep the audience engaged. Nolan Palmer as Freud gives a wonderful performance of the man but I would have liked it if he had had a few more levels with his performance as it tended to be a little one note. And Matt Shimkus as Lewis manages a few more levels and has one absolutely beautiful scene about half way through, but even he falls into this static trap of how to make a conversation interesting to those not involved. Director Scott Nolte manages to keep the pace clipping along and all of the points are hit but he seemed more interested in making sure the actors kept moving so all sides of the house could see them rather than developing the characters and finding layers for them to exist in.
A conversation play is a tough one to pull off and you have to really engage your audience to make it happen. I just did not find myself engaged and I feel with a bit more investment into the levels of the characters we could have had that. Without it, they're just talking and we lose any kind of motivation or stakes they may have in what they are saying. And then, we might as well just be eaves dropping at Starbucks.
"Freud's Last Session" plays at Taproot Theatre though April 21st. For tickets or information contact the Taproot box office at 206-781-9707 or visit them online at www.taproottheatre.org.
Photo credit: Erik Stuhaug