A Meeting of Minds: "Freud's Last Session" at Springfield Contemporary Theatre

Mar 29, 2019

Sigmund Freud invited C.S. Lewis to visit his London home in 1939. Their wide-ranging discussion inspired Mark St. Germain's play "Freud's Last Session," now playing at Springfield Contemporary Theatre.
Credit (Poster design courtesy Springfield Contemporary Theatre)

“So I think anybody who sees it will be quite pleased and quite impressed with what these actors have created in these roles.”

That’s George Cron, director of Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s new production of Mark St. Germain’s play “Freud’s Last Session”, which opens this weekend at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza.  Joining Cron in our studio were his two actors, Terry Bloodworth and Actor’s Equity member David Schmittou.

The play is based on an actual event that took place September 3rd, 1939, the day England declared war on Germany and officially entered World War II. Legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud invited rising star at Oxford University, writer, professor and lay theologian C. S. Lewis, to meet with him at his home in London.  As George Cron describes it, “C.S. Lewis arrives, and is a little concerned and curious as to why he might be invited.” Actually, Lewis had a pretty good idea why. “He realizes that Freud is rather disturbed with C.S. Lewis’s conversion (to Christianity), because both of them were atheists to begin with, and C.S. Lewis has come around to a completely different point of view that, I think, Freud finds quite frustrating.”

Says Terry Bloodworth, who portrays Dr.Freud, “Freud is near the end.” (Suffering from jaw cancer, Freud died, apparently of physician-assisted suicide, on September 23, 1939--just a few weeks after his meeting with Lewis depicted in the play.) “And I think he’s almost paralyzed and enraged with anger because he knows Lewis is one of the rising intellectual and artistic names in the British Empire. And he’s looking for answers. Freud’s god was truth, and he wanted to get to the truth, because he knew the clock was ticking.”

The two men were diametrically opposed philosophically.  According to David Schmittou, who plays C.S. Lewis, “they were two men who, at the time, admired each other in their writings and their thoughts, but were on completely different sides of that issue. And Freud was particularly fascinated by Lewis, because in his early years he had been an atheist—he had left the (Anglican) church—and had come back to be one of its most powerful and vocal defenders.  I think it’s a very well-written play.  I’ve seen productions of it, and I’ve done it before, and it never ceases to make me think and to realize new things every time I’m working on it.”

Asked what inspired him to want to put this play on the stage, director George Cron, “I’ve personally always had a very strong interest in various religions and spiritual philosophy.” So he finds it fascinating “to see the struggle between such brilliant men coming together, and the way they were able to dive into the culture of the times and their own psyches. These two characters have brilliant nuance onstage, and to watch them decipher and come to this meeting of minds, and the struggle that’s happening between the two, and the opportunity to do such an intense… if you come you’ll be challenged.  It’s thought provoking.  And yet, there are these wonderful, delightful moments of humor.”

Religion, God, and the meaning of life aren’t the only topics on the table, says Cron. “They even discuss what humor is and how humor works within the play.”  Adds Terry Bloodworth, “You even find out that Freud had a taste for… what we call ‘vaudeville’ humor. And he recounts—and I think it’s one of my favorite scenes—an encounter with the world-famous Joseph Pujol, known as ‘Le Petomane.’” After we all laugh at the very idea, Bloodworth goes on. “Let’s just say he had a ‘specialty’ act in which he employed absolutely no props other than his own body. Let’s just say that. And yes, Freud did have a taste for that sort of humor.”

What kind of humor did C.S. Lewis have a taste for?  David Schmittou says, “Well, he tended to have a much more intellectual taste, I think, although he does find that a rather amusing, if shocking, story!”

Performances of “Freud’s Last Session” are Fridays through Sundays March 29 through April 14 at SCT Center Stage: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:00pm.  There is also a single Thursday-evening “Pay What You Can” performance on April 4. It, and the Sunday April 7 matinee, will both be followed by a talkback session with cast and director.  Tickets range from $22-$27 and are available at 831-8001 or at www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.