The Winged Ox Players of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, in Jamestown are examining two of the great minds of the 20th Century - Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis - in their current production of the play "Freud's Last Session," by Mark St. Germain.
The play is an imaginary encounter between the two great thinkers at a moment of enormous anguish for both. The date is September 1, 1939. On that day, Adolf Hitler's German army invaded the neighboring country of Poland and England and France declared war against the Third Reich, beginning World War II.
At the time, Freud was in his 80s, and was suffering horribly from cancer of the mouth. He had fled his native Vienna with his wife, their daughter, and a few colleagues, only a bit more than a year earlier, when Hitler had taken over neighboring Austria. The Freuds were ethnic Jews, and were in mortal danger from the Nazis. They had settled in England.
Just three weeks after the play's ending, Freud would convince his personal physician to administer a fatal overdose of opiates.
So, the father of psychoanalysis was living in a foreign country, where he spoke only a bit of the language. He didn't realize that loyal followers had preserved his books and his papers, and believed that his life's work was largely destroyed. He was in pain and was witnessing the world heading back to war, only 20 years after the end of the first World War.
Lewis was in his 40th year, and was a professor at Oxford University. Born in Ireland, he was baptized into the Church of Ireland, one element of the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church of the U.S. He spent part of his youth certain that God was a myth and religion was a lie, but by the time of the play's setting, he had rejoined the Church of England, lodging himself firmly in the high church element of that faith. Throughout the war he would deliver radio addresses which encouraged the English people to adhere to their religious faith, despite the death and destruction they were enduring.
The playwright posits that Freud would be impressed by the writings of Lewis, and would invite him to take the short train ride into London, to argue his own atheism against the faith of the young scholar and author.
The production at St. Luke's, has cast Matt Smith as Dr. Freud, and Miguel Covarrubias as Professor Lewis. From time to time, both men, being deeply concerned about the growing threat of war, would turn on a radio in Freud's study. All of the voices from the radio, including BBC announcers, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and King George VI, were performed by Steven Cobb. Probably fortunately, the company has chosen not to complicate the language of the play with accents.
The undercroft, or basement of the church has been transformed into a stylish and thematically important replica of Freud's study in England, by technical director Bill Thomas and by the entire cast and crew. Daniel Pierce directed the production.
One weakness of the production values is the fact that all light for the performance comes from directly over the actors' heads, which creates distracting shadows, especially on their faces.
The play is less than 90 minutes in length, with no intermission, but despite the fact that it is mostly conversation between the two men, it moves forward effectively. The Playwright has not captured dialogue effectively, and at times it does seem as though the men are reading, rather than discussing, but they delivered their words with energy and clear projection.
Other members of the technical staff were Cathy Smith and Marge Fiore. ''Freud's Last Session'' will be performed Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The play was reviewed in dress rehearsal, at the company's request. Food for thought is provided, throughout.
St. Luke's is located at the intersection of Fourth St. and N. Main St., in downtown Jamestown.