The show: "Freud's Last Session" at Hartford's TheaterWorks
What makes it special: Regional bow of popular off-Broadway and regional work by Mark St. Germain.
First impressions: St. Germain may have a thing about therapy. Last year the theater presented his "Becoming Dr. Ruth" prior to its New York run. Now he's riffing with Freud in a thought-provoking work that will have audiences talking long after the show is over.
A visit by author C.S. Lewis to Freud's study in England in the last weeks of the famed psychoanalyst's life to, in essence, debate the existence of God, may first strike one as the stuff of a graduate thesis. But as imagined (the encounter never happened) by the playwright, this well-crafted work is more like watching a fiercely played, yet-respectful tennis match between two masters.
But in the TheaterWorks production, the emotions run too fast and furious for the intimate space and at times it seems like one of those shrill programs on Fox News.
That's what you get when you start talking about religion, no: Not necessarily, especially in a civil talk between great thinkers. Sure, things heat up at times and there are certainly passionate views (and egos) here, but the fire is in the ideas and the pleasure is how nuanced those incendiary ideas are played back and forth.
What it is about: The doctor, a Jew who fled Austria when the Nazis annexed the country, summons the intellectual author to his home in Oxford in 1939, on the eve of England's entry into World War II, to discuss Lewis' sudden embrace of Christianity. The famed doctor is curious about how such a brilliant mind could succumb to "an insidious lie" like religion.
And does he find that answer: Ah, that's what this existential drawing-room play is all about. But before the session (yes, there's a couch) is over, both men well express their points of view. For Lewis, "there is God in many ways." For Freud, who is suffering from a hideous oral cancer, there is only scientific reason.
So is there a God?: No deus ex machina here but there's satisfaction at the peaceful and tender resolution to this eternal question.
And the performances: When not overplaying, there are some fine moments of playfulness, empathy and self-doubt. Under Maxwell Williams direction, Kenneth Tigar is the embodiment of our idea of the master shrink and Jonathan Crombie makes a fine foil for Freud.
Who will like it: Believers and non-believers who enjoy a juicy debate about the existence of God — and a little sex talk, too.
Who won't?: Those who like more action, less talk, in their drama. And Jungians, perhaps.
For the kids?: Not unless they belong to the high school debate team.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: In the Superbowl of faith versus reason, the world of ideas wins in this always intriguing, though hyperactive, production.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: It's interesting to see two plays in Hartford this week back to back, both dealing with England's entry into different world wars. In the epic "War Horse" at the Bushnell, the presentation is stunningly visual, empathetic and theatrical (and allegorical in a way Lewis would no doubt find handy). In the intimate two-hander of "Freud's Last Session," its special effects are all in the mind. Both make for fine theater experiences.
The basics: The show continues through Feb. 23 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Running time is 80 minutes without an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and select weekend matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $65; student rush at $15; seniors age 60 and up Saturday matinees at $35. Information at 860-527-7838 and www.theaterworkshartford.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now