Review: ‘Freud’s Last Session’ at Thunder River Theatre

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Bob Moore as Sigmund Freud and Corey Simpson as C.S. Lewis in Thunder River Theatre's production of "Freud's Last Session."
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: ‘Freud’s Last Session’

Where: Thunder River Theatre, Carbondale

When: March 4 to 6; 10 to 12. All shows 7:30 p.m. except Sunday, March 6, 2:30 p.m.

How much: $14 to $25

Tickets:; 970-963.8200

More info: March 6 and March 11 performances will be followed by a post-how talkback with the cast and director.

With 90 minutes of smart, swirling theological debate, some high drama and a dose of unexpected humor, Thunder River Theatre brings Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis to life in “Freud’s Last Session.”

The production, which opened last weekend and runs through March 12, stars Western Slope theater vet Bob Moore as Freud to Corey Simpson’s Lewis. A talky two-hander like “Freud’s Last Session” requires, above all else, a chemistry and sense of timing between its actors. Here, Moore and Simpson — who were magic as Bialystock and Bloom in the hilarious 2013 Aspen Community Theatre production of “The Producers” — prove again to be a perfect theatrical match.

Simpson’s smug and gentlemanly Lewis clashes with Moore’s self-satisfied, bitter and aggressive Freud. But amid their intellectual quarreling on questions of faith and religion they develop something like camaraderie, if not quite respect. Both actors speak in consistent, serviceable versions of their characters’ accents.

Moore’s wife, Wendy, directs the pair, as she did in “The Producers.” Her in-the-round staging turns out to be an inspired choice. Lewis and Freud circle one another like boxers in a ring, two intellectual gladiators bloodying one another in verbal combat.

“The humanity of these two is what’s interesting to me. We can read about Freud and we can read about Lewis, but we don’t know who they were as people.”Wendy MooreDirector

Freud and Lewis never met in real life. But playwright Mark St. Germain, armed with deep research into both men’s lives and writing, crafted a rapid-fire back and forth between Freud, the devout atheist, and Lewis, the proud Christian convert.

St. Germain sets the play in Freud’s London study in the fall of 1939, weeks before the psychologist’s death and — more importantly for this production — on the day Britain declared war on Germany. Throughout, Freud switches on the radio for the latest war news. A blaring air-raid siren is a pivotal turning point, as both men pull out gas masks and we glimpse them facing death.

Under the existential threat of war and the evil rise of Hitler, they sketch out their beliefs. Lewis, 40, arrives at Freud’s invitation, having satirized the father of psychoanalysis in his last book. But Freud, 83 and decimated by oral cancer, isn’t simply out to pick a personal fight. No, he wants to understand Lewis’ theological ideas. Their views are unlikely to offend (or persuade) believers or non-believers — neither side quite wins. But “Freud’s Last Session” offers everyone something think about leaving the theater.

Freud’s study is arrayed in little ceramic gods and a skull on Tom Ward’s well-appointed set. Freud’s chaise lounge sits ominously throughout, a bit like Chekhov’s gun, near the edge of the stage. Of course, Lewis ends up on the couch talking about his relationship with his parents, sighing, “There’s no way around this, is there?”

The play gives us Freud and Lewis in high-minded debates on love, sex, Hitler, music, suicide and God, but somehow it never falls into a stilted academic exercise — there’s room here for a fart joke (from Freud) and some clever ribbing (from both).

Freud’s illness makes him cough constantly — one extended, violent fit may be a bit overwrought for some audience members. But the ailment allows Moore to bring a vulnerability to his performance that leaves room for a cautious intimacy to grow between these two disagreeable men. That connection brings a messy, fascinating humanity to a play that, in lesser hands, might be a cold intellectual debate.

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