Calgary Herald

Legends duke it out in intellectu­al slugfest

Freud, Lewis both have zingers in new play


What if Freud had a few issues? That’s part of the premise explored in Freud’s Last Session, playwright Mark St. Germain’s compelling, intelligen­t rendering of an imagined meeting between the famed psychoanal­yst and fantasy author C.S. Lewis, which opened Wednesday at Rosebud’s Studio Stage.

There’s more to it than pointing out Freud’s (who’s very well played by Nathan Schmidt) own psychologi­cal baggage, which Lewis (also well performed by Joel Stephanson), a lapsed atheist and Oxford professor, is all too willing to do. But some of the most delicious moments in Freud’s Last Session occur when Lewis manoeuvres the great shrink onto the couch and gets him to reflect on himself, instead of us.

Freud, it turns out, is at a reflective moment at the very end of his life: He has painful oral cancer that makes every word he speaks agony, but being Sigmund Freud, he can’t help using his words.

Lewis, on the other hand, is a well-known Oxford professor, author and shell-shocked First World War veteran who lost his mother at the age of nine, prefers fantasy fiction, and has had a religious epiphany of late that transforme­d him from atheist to a man of deep religious conviction.

Ring the bell! Watch the verbal jousting unfold!

Right from the moment Lewis arrives in Freud’s office, late, explaining that all the trains are outbound that day because the city is emptying out in anticipati­on of German bombing, the words — a lot of words! — fly between these two.

Schmidt, a young man playing 83-year-old cancer-ridden Freud, is surprising­ly comfortabl­e wearing Freud’s shoes — and particular­ly active for a cancer-ridden octogenari­an, too, as director Morris Ertman finds some innovative ways to get the great men up and moving around Jerod Fahlman’s elegantly designed set.

He succeeds pretty well, too. After all, it isn’t every day that the Second World War gets declared, so this is indeed a day unlike any other.

And while arguing for and against the existence of God is a bit of an awkward topic to have a smart chat about at the best of times, there’s nothing quite like being in the final throngs of a painful illness as a world war breaks out to get a psychoanal­ytic legend thinking extremely big picture.

Much of the credit for that goes to Stephanson’s Lewis, who’s combative without being derisive. He’s a fine intellectu­al counterpun­cher, a passionate advocate of his new-found faith — as Freud likes to point out, he has the passion of the converted — who isn’t daunted by the fact that he’s trying to talk Sigmund Freud down off an intellectu­al mountainto­p.

Freud scores zingers, too, particular­ly when he zooms in on Lewis’s bereft emotional life, only to have Lewis punch back with a series of deft counterat- tacks centred around Freud’s controllin­g relationsh­ip with daughter Anna.

It isn’t easy bringing famous minds to life. We all bring a set of baggage and media memories to the sorts of legends represente­d in Freud’s Last Session, but thanks to some crisp direction from Ertman and strong performanc­es from Schmidt and Stephanson, Rosebud brings a pair of brainy, chatty legends to life in a spiritual and intellectu­al slugfest that may leave Rosebud audiences begging for a rematch.

 ?? Morris Ertman/Rosebud Theatre ?? Joel Stephanson and Nathan Schmidt portray C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud in Freud’s Last Session.
Morris Ertman/Rosebud Theatre Joel Stephanson and Nathan Schmidt portray C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud in Freud’s Last Session.

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