Freud's Last Session pulsates with energy
 

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posted Friday, March 30, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 13

Freud's Last Session pulsates with energy
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Freud's Last Session
Taproot Theatre
Through April 21


Taproot Theatre's new production of Freud's Last Session is full of exciting elements. It pulsates with energy and philosophy. It pits two incredible real-life people - Christian author C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud, the 'father' of modern psychoanalysis - in a debate of religion vs. science. In truth, the meeting in London in 1939, on the day Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, never occurred. The play is an imagining of two philosophies, clearly described as a fictional event in the play's insightful program notes. (Unlike the current controversy about Mike Daisey and his The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, where many of the 'facts' were fabricated, this fictional meeting is labeled as such.)

In a short, snappy 75 minutes, playwright Mark St. Germain involves us, delights us, challenges our concepts of faith, and makes us examine our ideas of science and philosophy - and it is terribly funny (and, in one scene, horrifyingly bloody). In short, it is the perfect play for our times. The opening night audience last Friday clearly loved the play and the production. And as an added bonus, this very contemporary work is making its West Coast premiere at Taproot while still playing in New York. An unexpected off-Broadway smash, the play has moved to several off-Broadway theaters and a loyal, word-of-mouth audience has followed its every move and turned it into a true New York rarity - a hit production of a straight play about ideas.

Praise goes to all involved in the production. Director Scott Nolte skillfully keeps the production moving briskly along. He is not afraid to let the humor - sometimes outrageous humor - take center stage (who knew that Freud could do stand-up comedy?) and he's well aware that an evening of philosophic discussion about religion must keep moving to hold the audience's attention. Nolte, artistic director and founder of Taproot (36 years ago), has done many outstanding productions for the small, intense company, but few have matched the overall success of this superb staging. Taproot probably has the most loyal audience in the Seattle area. Basically conservative, Taproot continues to stretch its boundaries - Freud's Last Session includes Freud's positive comments about homosexuality being 'perfectly normal' and the opening-night party included whiskey-soaked chocolate cake from The Upper Crust, a local and very supportive catering company. And no one commented. (In actuality, probably no one noticed.)

In its mission statement, Taproot notes that it 'exists to create theater that explores the beauty and questions of life while bringing hope to our search for meaning.' Freud's Last Session might well have been written to exemplify that credo. Another motto of the theater is on its stationery: 'A theatre of hope. We value faith. We respect people. We celebrate theatre.' Well stated. And, here, well delivered.

Like the Seattle Repertory Theatre's recent outstanding production of Red, the arts vs. commerce tale of artist Mark Rothko and the creative process, Freud's Last Session states its objectives, whips through the development, leaves the audience craving more, and ends on a high note. The playwright acknowledges that his script was suggested by a non-fiction book, The Question of God, by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. Several of this reviewer's more 'intellectual' friends made a quick request for Nicholi's book at the Seattle Public Library.

The actors in the production are equally outstanding. Nolan Palmer has been performing on Taproot's stages for 31 years. He simply has never been better. Matt Shimkus is a perfect C.S. Lewis. He plays the famous writer and philosopher as a wide-eyed innocent at 40 (which Lewis may well have then been). He's the perfect foil to Palmer's Freud. And even if the two men never met, they should have. And thanks to the magic of theater, they have.

The script is of full of great one-liners: Lewis notes that 'The greatest problem with Christianity is Christians.' He also remarks that while Freud professes not to believe in God, he 'fills his life with dead gods,' a reference to the set, which recreates Freud's London recreation of his original office in Vienna. Taproot's Mark Lund, as usual, did outstanding work on the scenic and sound design. He started buying props - the statues of hundreds of Freud's 'dead gods' that fill every bookcase, every table, every surface - in June and remade many of them. An all-important statue of Eros came from an internet purchase but had to be weighted, restyled, repainted - in essence, recreated for the production. Costumes and lighting are both tops.

While the play continues its unexpected popularity in New York, the producers have wisely opened the Chicago production using the two original New York actors - 'direct from The Big Apple' always prompts ticket sales. At the after-opening party, Nolte mentioned that the Chicago production had sent a 'break a leg' note for the Taproot opening. 'It was a wonderful gesture,' he noted. The New York producers also have a very clever ad campaign for the production, nearing the end of its second year. The small ad reads: 'Freud's Last Session. Join the conversation. Woody Allen, Barbara Walters, Neil Simon, Alec Baldwin, and Jerry Stiller all had a session. Schedule YOUR session today!' The celebrities, of course, had a session with Freud by attending the production (well, it's possible that Woody Allen had more access, but that's unlikely). It's a clever ad for a rewarding play.

Seattle theater fans can bask in the fact that two spring productions are running concurrently in New York and in the Emerald City. The Seattle Rep's upcoming staging of Clybourne Park, last year's Pulitzer Prize winner for best play, opens in Seattle only days after it opens on Broadway. (That show unexpectedly won the Pulitzer the week that the highly praised off-Broadway production was scheduled to close. It was too late to extend it off-Broadway or move officially to Broadway, so regional rights were released before the current Broadway production was announced.) It's rare that Seattle has any play on local stages while still in New York, but having two such productions is doubly impressive.

Freud's Last Session continues through April 21. (Opening-night fans of the production were already asking about an extension. Unlikely, but watch for details.) A special 'senior matinee' is scheduled for Wednesday, April 11, at a special rate. Several student matinees are also scheduled. Full details are available at (206) 781-9707 or at www.taproottheatre.org. Various student/senior discounts are offered. Highest recommendation.



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