January 27th, 2011

La Loge

Freud's Last Session

I meant to post this last weekend, but the flu intervened.  I'm sorry for the delay, but really, I couldn't.  Better now, though.

Last week was Nephew Week here at Chateau Riverside--Ellen's beloved eldest nephew AJ, stopping by NYC on a snowy evening to visit his Wacky Aunts on his way back up to Skidmore for his final (how time flies!) semester before braving the Big Bad World.  We took him to the theatre, we took him to the ballet, we took him to the Metropolitan Museum to look at furniture and boxes.  It was like being a tourist in my own city, which I always enjoy, since I get to goof off  broaden my mind without feeling (overwhelmingly) guilty about the things I am not doing. 

So, most Aunts (however Wacky) take their nephews to Broadway when they come visit--to something fun and splashy, like Billy Eliot.  What do we take our nephew to?  Freud's Last Session, a two-hander by Marc St. Germaine at the West Side Y about the imaginary meeting of Freud and C.S. Lewis in London in 1939, on the day England declared war on Germany.

The play takes place in Freud's London study, decorated by his daughter Anna to replicate his study in Berlin, lost to him when he fled an increasingly repressive and dangerous Germany two years earlier.  Freud is suffering from cancer of the mouth, and Lewis has just published Pilgrim's Regress, in which he paints an unflattering portrait of Freud.  Of course, Lewis expects to be called on the carpet for essentially calling Freud a pretentious windbag.  Of course, Freud hasn't read the book--although he has heard of it.  Equally of course, Lewis wants to get Freud to admit that God might exist and Freud is equally anxious to get Lewis to admit that his vaunted conversion is, at best, delusional, stemming from his mother's early death and his father's coldness.  Needless to say, nobody's mind is changed, but a great number of interesting things are said, and some moments of true power as both men face their mortality in the face of a war that is all too clearly going to spill out of the battlefield and into their homes.

Inevitably, it's a talky play, whose tension and interest depend heavily on the two actors playing Freud and Lewis.  For my money, Martin Reyner as Freud mops the stage with Mark H. Dold's rather colorless and square-jawed Lewis.  Reyner's walk made my back and legs ache in sympathy, and watching his wry wit zoom over the Lewis's extremely earnest head was a delight.  My only real (and very subjective) criticism of the production was, in fact, that (despite passing references to Minto and his experiences in WWI), I missed the complex, conflicted, half-Pagan Lewis I've always loved.  Granted, the Lewis in this play is only 41, close on the heels of his conversion, with the Narnia books and Joy Davidman still ahead of him.  And Lewis straight-up on Religion is never as charming (or convincing) as Lewis coming at the divine side-on, when his heart had a chance to trip up his head and show him up for the animist I believe he always was at bottom.  But still.

It's an open-ended run, and there are cheap tickets available on Broadway Box.  The theatre is charming, the building remarkable. 

Next night (that would be Friday), we went to the Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center to see a ballet program.  I do love watching the ballet, but can't think of much to say about it.  For me, it's a blessedly non-verbal experience, and this one more than most, since I went into it tired and came out of it even tireder.  So I fear it must go un-commented upon, at least by me.  The curious can consult The New York Times review for a full analysis.

Oh, AJ enjoyed both performances very much.  We had a lovely talk about Freud and Lewis and atheism and faith and conversion and Narnia and WWI afterwards, over pommes frites (AJ), tarte tatin (I'm a sucker for tarte tatin) and bread-and-butter (EK).  He was as tired as I was after the ballet, so we didn't talk about that, but I know he got a kick out of the architecture.

As I lie here on the sofa typing and looking out at the clumps of snow falling off the trees in Riverside Park, it seems inconceivable to me that we'll be going out to see Cymbeline tonight, but that's the plan.  I'll let you know how it pans out, shall I?