Philosophy is fickle. It can, at once, aid individuals in analyzing reality, morality, and the mind, yet to the unprepared individual it can become a pitfall in which one finds themselves unable to think outside of their philosophy of choice. Whether it is fear, comfort, or simple stubbornness, the ego struggles to detach itself from a philosophy once it begins to associate and identify itself with it. Despite the conflicts it can cause, or more likely because of the conflicts it can cause, I am quite entertained by the scholarly duel between well-versed egos entering the proverbially gladiatorial arena with the intentions of outwitting one another, yet aware that neither will budge. It’s perfect story material. A battle of wits and ego akin to live debate is ripe for the ephemeral vigor of theatre, leading to such triumphs as Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, David Mamet’s Oleanna, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited (one of my all-time favorite plays). And now, thanks to Jarrott Productions first production, we of the Austin Theatre get to enjoy the continuation of these onstage philosophical musings with Freud’s Last Session.
Set on September 3rd, 1939, the day England enters World War II, Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain portrays a fabricated encounter between Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis at Freud’s study in London as they discuss morality, sexuality, death, and, most prominently, the existence of God while the looming threat of war announces itself through the radio.
Upon entertaining the theatre one is immediately struck by the detail found in Leslie Ann Turner’s set design. Every
inch of the stage is detailed with antiques, tomes, paintings, trinkets, and more, leaving nothing to the imagination. It truly feels like a room in which the real Sigmund Freud would have studied. Leslie’s design pairs well with Rachel Atkinson’s lighting design which, while unchanging for the majority of the one act play, keeps both of the actors and the space they inhabit properly visible throughout.
However, the strength of the production is predictably found in actors David R. Jarrott and Tyler Jones (Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis respectively). As the only actors of the production, most of the production hung on their compatibility. Thankfully, Jarrott and Tyler are the perfect pair of dueling wits for this production, each unwilling to budge yet hell-bent on convincing the other man of his beliefs. Jarrott, as Freud three weeks before he committed suicide, carries with him the staggering weight of death and oblivion reflecting thematically with his progressing cancer and the impending war. However, this does not stop him from mentally sparring with Jones with a keen mind. Jarrott is an excellently pompous and self-righteous Freud, constantly emanating intellectual intensity. Jones as Lewis is the perfect foil to Jarrott’s Freud. As a young convert he is driven yet delightfully smug at times. Within him are wide-eyed hope of the faithful and the inquisitive drive of the scholar; both aspects work beautifully in his efforts to debate Freud on the subject of God.
Both actors are a delight in their portrayals of their respective historical figures, each bursting with such certainty in their beliefs that you cannot help but feel convinced by both sides of their debates. However, as much as I loved their onstage disagreements, my favorite moments between Jarrott and Jones were their rare agreements and instances when they instinctively showed concern for each other’s wellbeing. As the air raid sirens sound both actors showed more genuine concern for the other’s safety than themselves (“Don’t put yourself in danger on my behalf!” insists Freud as Lewis refuses to leave for a bomb shelter without him), even though both were noticeably prepared to face their prompt demise. Though this and other similar moments within the play are used to as points of discussion in their debates later, their value of one another’s opinion and protection is apparent. Creating a production of Freud’s Last Session in which Freud and Lewis are constantly biting and bitter towards one another would have been too easy and unpleasant to watch. What Jarrott and Jones have accomplished with director Fritz Ketchum is the portrayal of two men who, on the surface, hold diametrically opposed beliefs yet, underneath it all, truly respect one another.
Don’t expect to find the great answers to the questions of life, death, God, and morality in this play, but be prepared to consider the opinions of two determined individuals on the eve of chaos. Succinct, witty, and thought-provoking, Freud’s Last Session is an engaging experience for lovers of theatre and philosophy, and a phenomenal inaugural production for Jarrott Productions leaving me eagerly awaiting their next show. As Ketchum neatly wrote in his director’s note, “…[Y]ou simply cannot answer all the great questions of life in a single encounter. But it certainly was great fun to try.”
Jarrott Productions’ Freud’s Last Session continues playing at the Trinity Street Theatre every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening at 8pm and every Sunday at 2:30pm until October 18th.