The setup for Freud’s Last Session—an imaginary meeting between the granddaddy of psychoanalysis and budding fantasy writer C.S. Lewis in which they argue about the existence of God—is a bit artificial, but the work itself feels refreshingly authentic. The play is set in London in 1939, just days after Hitler’s invasion of Poland and weeks before Freud’s death from a deliberate morphine overdose, giving playwright St. Germain no shortage of high stakes in which to ground this most elusive and familiar of debates: faith versus reason. Predictably, Freud is the hardened realist who bases his beliefs on science, while Lewis is the awestruck Christian convert who follows his heart.
This production from Barrington Stage Company is nothing if not thorough: both St. Germain’s script and Brian Prather’s set, a re-creation of Freud’s study in which the proverbial couch looms large, have been meticulously researched and thoughtfully assembled. Rayner and Dold manage humanizing portrayals that avoid slipping into clich; there are as few false notes in their emotional vicissitudes as in their accents. Rayner’s evident anguish from a painful oral prosthetic (Freud was in the final throes of mouth cancer when he died) garners palpable sympathy from the audience. Although the lives and ideas of the two men are necessarily compressed and oversimplified, it is pleasant to spend an hour in their company under the willful delusion that you are a fly on the wall.
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