If there was such a thing as a “blockbuster” for The Studios season, Freud’s Last Session qualifies. The demand, apparently, is such that it’s running a total of nine shows in a span of five days—including additional 10pm ones.
It’s just like Mosaic Fest’s Music Club!
The interest is both justifiable and deserved. It coincidentally comes at the heels of the Sigmund Freud/Carl Jung flick A Dangerous Method but more than that, it’s a well-produced and engaging play. I mean, how can you go wrong with a clash of ideas between the father of psychoanalysis and the writer who transformed God into an awesome lion named Aslan?
Written by Mark St Germain, the 2010 Off-Broadway piece presents the speculative encounter between Freud and CS Lewis during the former’s dying days. With the start of World War II as backdrop, Freud invites the comparatively young Lewis over to his home and, as expected, a debate over the existence of God begins.
It marks the return to proper staging by Blank Space Theatre Company after 2008′s Das Experiment and director Samantha Scott-Blackhall does well bringing the piece to life. Within the warm, cosy set by Wong Chee Wai (that tapers off to the side and reinforces this bubble of an encounter) you had two topnotch actors in Matt Grey (Freud) and Daniel York (Lewis) really having a go at each other’s characters like your typical atheist and Christian blind dates.
To Darren Ng’s soundtrack of UK circa 1939 (air raid sirens and radio announcements, including the famous King’s Speech), the barbs and quips fly back forth as Freud and Lewis unload their respective baggage in crisp dialogue. There’s a genuine ebb and flow of emotions, each one gets his turn to blast the other and both get their funny one-liners. The only thing missing in this dramatised debate were scorecards. Heh.
Like I said, I enjoyed the thoroughly engaging production (and of course, it’s an extra treat hearing Tolkien being namedropped as one of Lewis’ buddies in his Oxford professor gang The Inklings).
But now that I’ve gotten my thoughts out on the production aspect, allow me to talk more about the piece itself.
Because, to be honest, my feeling towards the play is actually one of irritation.
Erm, if you’re planning to catch this, let me just take out my “Spoiler Alert” tag. Oh, and my “If Easily Offended, Look At Cat Videos, Instead” tag, too.
There you go.
As something to take home, Freud’s Last Session was disappointingly safe and unsatisfying. Why? It ends with the usual agree-to-disagree stance.
In the context of multi-religious Singapore I’m inclined to concur with the piece leaving things at that.
But in the context of the play’s universe, its characters and what they stand for (nuanced though it may be, it’s positioned as a binary clash of Almighty proportions), I’m wondering how a play with such an awesome premise like Freud’s not be obligated to take sides?
Think about it. One believes in God, the other doesn’t. That’s like, you know, oil and water. Putting two extremely opinionated people in a room to duke it out and the result is status quo? Sounds pretty much like pure intellectual blabber.
And then it hits me. It never needed to push things further because it already has a position.
Freud’s Last Session is not just about Freud meeting Lewis. It’s also about a dying atheist meeting a hale-and-hearty Christian—who was also previously an atheist until becoming a convert.
Furthermore, they’re not just living in the bubble of Freud’s house picking each other’s brains. There’s a greater backdrop than simply a debate on the existence of God—there’s a war going on. And both of them have, in their separate ways, experienced its horrors.
Death and despair completely surround both. But while God-fearing Lewis has something to fall back on, the unbelieving Freud has none. His “last session” was ultimately held in an uneven playing field.
(Freud’s Last Session runs until Sunday. Details here.)