Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Second Session with Freud

In the blink of an eye almost a half year has gone by since we saw the NYC premiere of Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain, wondering how it will translate to the venue of Dramaworks in West Palm Beach. Last night we attended the preview of the production which was directed by Bill Hayes, who is also the Producing Artistic Director of Dramaworks, the best (and most serious) theater in South Florida. He had promised something "different" than the NYC production, and he delivered.

The play is about a fictitious meeting between two great thinkers, C.S. Lewis, the Christian apologist, and Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and a staunch atheist, towards the end of Freud's life and at the onset of WW II and is set in Freud's study in London. In a sense, the outbreak of war is another "character" in the play, one which helps develop the dramatic tension. It is a perfect conceit to spin a play about great ideas confronting the inexplicable transience of life and the gathering storm of man's inhumanity to man. Still there is a playful humor between these two great philosophers and this helps to relieve some of the tension of the intellectual dialogue. They both seem to agree on one thing: "humor tips the scales."

The New York Times review of the NYC production, while overall praising the work, was critical of there being a “lack of tension” or lack of “suspense.” Dramaworks has addressed that, getting to more of the core emotions of the two, sometimes finding they share more as human beings in spite of their philosophical differences. Of course it helps to have two fine actors to direct, Dennis Creaghan who I will always remember for his role as Don, the owner of the junk shop in David Mamet's American Buffalo which played last year. It shows the range of his acting abilities to go from the staccato street dialogue of Mamet to the thoughtful, brooding pronouncements of a Freud. Chris Oden, playing Freud's foil, C.S. Lewis, always seems to have the perfect theist rejoinder to Freud's scientific view, and Oden plays the role convincingly with passion.

I had said in my "review" of the NYC production that we felt as if we were in Freud's study, but that sensation has been used to even greater advantage by Hayes, and his set designer Michael Amico, in the intimate setting of Dramaworks' theatre, where the audience sits, literally, on the very edge of the stage in a stadium seating configuration -- rather than having to look up at the action as it was presented in NY. Dramaworks has perfectly replicated a typical London mews apartment and faithfully captured Freud's study with his ancient artifacts, even down to copying the chair he sat in!

Kudos again to Palm Beach Dramaworks, theater to think about which always rises to the occasion.