The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble kicked off the season with Mark St. Germain's 2009 Off-Broadway hit, "Freud's Last Session", a conversation between two of the greatest thinkers in history—Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. Yet despite featuring the father of psychoanalysis and the creator of Narnia, the play's imagined encounter promised many great arguments, but never saw them through.
Inspired by Dr. Armand Nicholi's wish for a meeting between the two legends, St. Germain penned a thought-provoking play between two radical thinkers, debating religion, sex, emotion and war, all while Freud is dying of cancer of the jaw. Set in 1939, the eighty-minute play watches the two chuckle, roar, and test each other's patience with more than a few snide remarks and unshakable opinions, without boring audiences with psycho-babble and philosophical mumbo-jumbo. But one of the hazards of being short and sweet is lack of detail—St. Germain might have extended the play to provide more satisfactory arguments. Nevertheless, the moments of emotion and generosity between the two men were compensatory highlights.
Robert Mandel's shrewd direction kept the pace of the play fast and smooth without being rushed, pushing each rebuttal quick on the other's heels. However, with only two characters, one wonders why he allowed Freud to drive every scene. While Martyn Stanbridge's lovely C.S. Lewis was pleasantly warm and had a voice suited to an introspective children's novelist, he was too gentle at times, and allowed earnestness to slip into weakness. Perhaps this was Mandel's intention in casting a 60-year-old in a 41-year-old's role, but if so, it made for a skewed and occasionally disappointing power dynamic on stage. Martin Rayner's Freud on the other hand demonstrated a good amount of control—alternately vicious and feeble, he was a convincing if conventional pigheaded scientist.
The star of the play however, was Pete Hickok's scenic design. A stereotypical but beautiful London study-room, the stage was complete with dozens of books, faux-Persian carpets, and a genuinely warm atmosphere, exemplifying Freud's soft side. Overflowing with Buddhas and Athenas, the setting demonstrated the various facets in the scientist's personality—the only thing missing was the clichéd globe that belongs in every great man's study. While lighting and sound designers Derrick McDaniel and Christopher Moscatiello had little to do on a single-set stage, Kim DeShazo's simple costumes fit the characters' personalities well, with Freud in a pinstriped suit, and fitted waistcoat complete with a pocket-watch (perfect save for a peeling wig and powder-white makeup clashing a tanned neck), and Lewis in a cooler and more relaxed palette and ensemble.
Thus, despite a few hitches in production, "Freud's Last Session" offers the beginning of many fantastic conversations for audiences to continue well after they leave the theatre.
"Freud's Last Session" is playing at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025) every Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm until March 4th, 2018. For tickets or more information, call (310) 477-2055 or visit odysseytheatre.com.