It’s a clever concept. Take two brilliant minds whose ideas and beliefs were well-documented yet diametrically opposed, and put them in a room together for an imaginary verbal slugfest. May the best man win.
But no one really does in Mark St. Germain’s “Freud’s Last Session,” in which writer-scholar C.S. Lewis, an ardent Christian, drops by the London home of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and an equally fervent atheist. The show opened Friday night at the Omaha Community Playhouse’s intimate Howard Drew Theatre.
Perhaps it’s bound to be a draw, since the topics of their intellectual clash have been food for argument through the ages. The nature of God, if indeed God exists at all. Life. Death. War. Sex.
As played by Nick Zadina, the much younger C.S. Lewis is a rather upbeat fellow, energetic, lively and happy to match wits. Bernie Clark’s version of Freud, by contrast, seems more than a bit churlish — maybe even angry. But then, he’s suffering from mouth cancer and knows he is near the end of life.
In fact, they spar over whether it would be right for him to commit suicide.
On the other hand, they discover a few things they have in common. Both had difficult relationships with their fathers, for example. And both are frightened on this September morning in 1939 at the sound of air-raid sirens and planes droning overhead. Hitler has just invaded Poland.
Lewis has come at Freud’s invitation, and he presumes it’s because Freud read something unflattering he wrote about him. But Freud claims not to have read Lewis, only to have been briefed by a colleague.
Lewis, on the other hand, definitely read Freud, as a schoolboy. “We devoured your books to discover our perversions,” he chuckles, “and then invented new ones.”
St. Germain does a nice job of constructing a spirited conversation, one that held the mostly quiet audience for nearly 90 minutes without intermission. Each man is smart enough to turn the other’s own words against him to make a point.
“Thank God,” Freud lets slip at one point, and you could almost hear an “aha!” in Lewis’ eyebrow-raising pregnant pause. The moment got one of the evening’s few good laughs at a Thursday preview.
Here’s one audience member who might have wished for more humor to be mined, though the conversation was certainly engaging. Director Kevin Lawler doesn’t fuss with moving his actors around much, trusting the words to hold interest. And they do. Still, the evening is static enough that it won’t trip every trigger.
Sticklers for accents probably won’t rave, either. Clark’s German feels a bit too heavy (“Ve can shpeak in my shtudy,” he says early on), while Zadina’s English fades in and out.
That’s picking at nits, really. There’s much to admire in both Clark’s and Zadina’s character work, and in St. Germain’s clever script. An attractive dark-wood set by Steve Wheeldon, packed with books, art objects and “ancient” artifacts, is as interesting to the eye with its exaggerated vanishing-point lines as the idea-wrestling is for the mind.
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Freud’s Last Session
What: Stage drama
Where: Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St., Howard Drew Theatre
When: Tonight through Nov. 17. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $35 adults, $21 students
Information: 402-553-0800 or omahaplayhouse.com