Sigmund Freud was a well-known neurologist and atheist but is probably more well-known for being the founder of psychoanalysis. C.S. Lewis was a novelist, Christian apologist and theologian. While these two characters are drastically different and grew up in different eras, they’re also two of the most prominent and influential thinkers of western thought where they’ve had drastic effects on the way individuals view the world. It’s entertaining to think about what would have happened if these two thinkers had met and took time to sit down, have a cup of tea, and discuss their different views of humanity and the world. PLNU’s Salomon Theater is bringing that entertainment to the stage in Freud’s Last Session. Starting November 9th, students, friends and families will get the chance to sit in on this two person, one act play and witness a discussion between Freud and Lewis as they grapple with questions like, “What is pain and suffering in a world with a good and all-powerful God?” and “How do we try to live life as rationally as possible while still being able to take a leap of faith?”
This historical fiction production takes place on an abstract set of Freud’s office in London on the eve of Great Britain’s entry into World War II and also co-aligns with Freud’s having oral cancer. Both Freud and Lewis wrestle with the concept of humanity and suffering while both men deal with their own inner-struggles and doubts about life. Freud, played by Dellon Sanders, and Lewis, played by Michael McCarter-Crellin, suffer alongside the world as the country enters one of the bloodiest wars in history.
“The play is at that wonderful position where everyone is very eager for answers,” said Sanders. “Freud and Lewis are very similar in the way that they talk about these issues and that just serves to highlight the different perspectives and how they approach the same questions on different sides.” While so many might caricature these historical figures, rendering them down into simple stereotypes of what they believed and who they were, director Wally Williams hopes Freud’s Last Session will give back the humanity which modern day society has taken away from these two characters. “I think the play is an interesting discussion. Some honest questions are asked that are not necessarily answered,” said Williams. “It’s a discussion; it’s not a sermon.”
Williams originally wanted to direct the play at Salomon Theater three years ago, but the play’s continual appearance in off-Broadway made getting the rights to the play a challenge. “I tried for months to get the rights but had to put it on the back-burner for a few years,” said Williams. “Then, when it came to this year, I had the right people and I felt like it would be a good fit for our campus.”
Sanders, Crellin and Williams said the first weeks of rehearsals consisted of just sitting down with the script, picking through the lines and getting deep into the emotions and thoughts of the characters. “The challenge is transforming a written piece, a script, into something that is life-like and life-filled,” said Sanders. “It’s hard because we are playing people, actual real historical people. You still have to be artistic with it, but you don’t have as much creative license.”
Freud’s and Lewis’ discussion is full of strange and random segways that would occur in any normal conversation. For Sanders and Crellin, trying to portray those inconsistencies naturally is difficult. “You have to really think like the character and ask yourself, ‘What would make me say this?’” said Sanders. “Our portrayal of the characters is driven by our research of those individuals.”
But Crellin adds that the rewards far outweigh the challenges. “A 20 year old college student attempting to accurately portray a 30 or 40 year old intellectual Oxford professor is not easy. But the cool part is I get to portray a more human and more relatable C.S. Lewis,” said Crellin. “So many people have this picture of Lewis as always being very intellectual and inspirational, but he also had this other side to him as a human being that struggled with not always having the answer. Getting to bring that part of Lewis out in the script has been a rewarding challenge.”
Sanders adds, “There’s a lot of information behind how we chose to take certain lines, but I think that’s the fun part, breaking down our previous conceptions of how we think these characters would have responded to certain questions.” While some tend to laugh at Freud’s obsession with sexuality and idealize Lewis’s theology, the ideas that these men had were simply that–ideas. The difference between them makes more sense when you look at the context in which they lived; it also explains why these men thought what they thought.
“Coming to a play where one of the characters is C.S. Lewis, you might expect a fairly defined conclusion,” said Williams. “But this play is more open ended. Both characters have valid questions and both have valid doubts. When students come to see the play, they are going to see a discussion about various issues rather than telling them what they should think.”
Freud’s Last Session aims to break down the walls of stereotypes and easy conclusions, bringing to light “that intersection between faith and doubt” according to Sanders. “As a Christian, that is such an important area of life to pay attention to because that’s where all our great meaningful questions come from,” said Sanders. “We don’t have all the answers, we just have to learn to ask better questions.”