Freud's Last Session a Big Hit

By Steven Lieberman

Observer Reporter

Martin Rayner (Sigmund Freud) and Martyn Stanbridge (C.S. Lewis) are a dynamic duo as they rocket the two-man show concept to the next dimension during the presentation of off-Broadway hit Freud's Last Session at the Odyssey Theatre.

Three weeks before Freud died of mouth cancer (a sixteen year fight) in 1939, he invited Lewis - a respected author, Oxford professor and a fundamentalist Christian - to his home for an adversarial debate about their beliefs in God. What made this conversation fascinating is that Freud is an atheist and Lewis is a believer.

For 80 minutes, they battle each other over the existence of God, sometimes having compassion and understanding and other times attacking.

The scene takes place in London after Freud fled the Nazis invasion of Poland in in WWII, moving from Vienna to continue his psychoanalyst practice. Although fictional, one tends to believe that the unknown identity of the visitor could have been Lewis.

Rayner is spot-on, depicting a man who is struggling with cancer while Stanbridge fills the role of caregiver very capably. They are both firm in their beliefs, and at the same time very good listeners. There is one scene in the play where Freud is overcome by the symptoms of his cancer which is very disturbing and traumatizing.

But there is also humor, much needed levity to offset the intensity.

A period radio prop is creatively used to broadcast speeches by Prime Minister Chamberlain and King George VI. And at one point, air raid sirens blast, gas masks make an appearance, and both men have feelings that are triggered by this dramatic moment.

Kudos to playwright Mark St. Germain, director Robert Mandel, and set designer by Pete Hickok. Freud's office looked authentic, which included his famous couch.

This Odyssey Theatre Ensemble production continues through March 4.

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