Living is lethal.
But to what end do we live our life? A holy hereafter or hereafter a hole?
It depends on how you answer Armand M. Nicholi, Jr's book, The Question of God which inspired Mark St. Germain's Freud's Last Session on stage at Theatre Three.
On the eve of World War II the famous, atheist psychologist, Sigmund Freud, confronts the Christian author, C.S. Lewis about his faith. For 80 minutes the opposing tectonic viewpoints press together. But, the earthquake never comes.
And that is the great lesson of the play.
In Theatre Three's production, directed by Terry Dobson, the discourse remains civil (and witty to boot) and delivers a renewed awareness of our shared humanity. Whether we believe in God or not, death is something we all have in common, after all.
But don't let all this terminal talk scare you away from what is really an entertaining play. Existential, yes, but entertaining. Playwright St. Germain wrote for The Cosby Show after all. Not that the Cos could be confused with the Freud. Sometimes Jell-O is just Jell-O. Nevertheless, the play is a shrewd brew of character, conviction and circumstance. Freud has inoperable cancer, Lewis is newly faith filled and World War II is beginning.
The success of the show owes as much to its casting as it does to the script, however. Freud is played by the elder statesman of Dallas theater, Jac Alder. Cameron Cobb fresh from last season's Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson, plays the notable author Lewis. Alder is as daunting as Cobb is dynamic, but experience trumps youth in this case.
Where Cobb fills his C. S. Lewis with charming fidgets, Alder's Freud answers with stillness. Alder seems to summon silence to his aid. Like the whispering sound of a wind-up or a bowstring drawing back, the space before his skewering rejoinders makes the audience hunger for them all the more. Somehow director Dobson manages to keep the power balanced and the show moving through the debate. They don't reach a resolution as much as a respectful détente knowing that death will declare the ultimate winner in their fight.
The set, designed by Alder, has all the detail you've come to expect in the Theatre Three theatre square. Freud's Austrian office, relocated to London, is complete with the couch and humidor. Both are essential ingredients in the making and unmaking of the man. Also, present is a radio through which we get the updates as well as the recently re-famous King's speech. Sound designer Rich Frohlich keeps the world of the play ever-present. Whether the radio, the phone or the bombers overhead, the characters and audience are reminded that their discussion has a real and immediate context: war.
The evening isn't perfect. There are gruesome bits with Freud's mouth prosthetic and some overplayed buffoonery concerning a broken knickknack, but these are only really stick out because the rest of the evening is so smooth. Combine the elevated subject with the execution and you have a show that should run a long time. But tastes being what they are, it probably won't.
Avenue Q has extended its run, though.
◊ Here's a promo video for Freud's Last Session: