Great Performances by David Silberman and Jason Kuykendall in “Freud’s Last Session”
Sigmund Freud, the creator of psychoanalysis, held many controversial views and theories. His staunch atheism is one of the strongest and most controversial.
The great English writer C. S. Lewis, best known for “The Chronicles of Narnia,” also a staunch atheist as a young man, embraced Christianity as a professor at Oxford. Much credit for his conversion is given to long conversations with “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” author J. R. R. Tolkien.
Award-winning playwright Mark St. Germain’s current off-Broadway hit “Freud’s Last Session” imagines a conversation between the two brilliant men very near the end of Freud’s life, while Lewis is a young Oxford professor and little-known author outside intellectual circles. B Street Theatre is currently staging “Freud’s Last Session” as part of its B3 series.
The play is set against the background of the rise of Nazi German power on the day England declared war on Germany after the invasion of Poland. Freud and his family have recently relocated to London having barely escaped Vienna after the Nazi takeover of Austria.
St. Germain based the play on a report of Freud meeting with an unnamed Oxford professor shortly before Freud’s death by suicide, suffering from late stage oral cancer. St. Germain imagines that the professor is C. S. Lewis. Lewis believes that Freud has summoned him to discuss negative comments that Lewis has made in print regarding a recent publication by Freud. To Lewis’ surprise, Freud wants to talk about a larger issue: Lewis’ belief in the existence of God.
Given the intellect of the two subjects, St. Germain’s dialog is sometimes brilliant and often to the point. What may be surprising is how witty and often very funny it is.
All the action takes place in Freud’s London study, beautifully realized by B Street set designer Cat Frye. Yes, there is a couch. Some of the audience in the intimate B3 theatre are nearly on the couch.
Sound design by B Street staff realistically brings the war into the play both through the radio and from the skies outside the study.
The most compelling reason to see “Freud’s Last Session,” besides the script, is the actors’ performances. David Silberman as Freud and Jason Kuykendall as Lewis are perfectly cast. Both are B Street company members and are very well known to Sacramento theatergoers.
Silberman has appeared on stages throughout the country in his 40-plus-year career. At B Street he appeared in last season’s “Old Love” along with numerous other shows over several years. His performance as Morrie in “Tuesdays with Morrie” at the Sacramento Theatre Company won strong critical acclaim and favorable audience reaction.
Silberman bears a fair physical resemblance to Freud, especially with the iconic glasses. He does a nice German accent. But as with “Morrie,” it his performance as a man near death but with a mission that shines. His Freud, though weakened by end stage cancer and in great pain, continues to rally, interested in the conversation with the much younger man whose intellect he respects.
Kuykendall is one of Sacramento’s most popular actors, primarily for his roles in comedies such as “The 39 Steps” and “Searching for Eden,” recently at B Street, and as Earnest in STC’s opener “The Importance of Being Earnest” last season. He is also a member of B Street’s new B Street Sketch Comedy Group.
Kuykendall is a revelation as Lewis. While there is a lot of wit and humor, there is a great deal of more serious issues which he deftly handles. While Kuykendall bears little physical resemblance to Lewis, he is quite believable as a young academic. What is really amazing is how little his Lewis resembles any other character he has played before or Kuykendall himself. With little makeup and a simple change in hair style, this performance is a great example of how an actor can physically embody a character.
B Street associate producer Jerry Montoya directs with a deft hand giving a comfortable reality to the staging and bringing out the great performances of his actors.
With “Freud’s Last Session,” B Street Theatre has brought a currently hot-ticket New York show to Sacramento. The entertaining script, performed by perfectly cast actors at their best, creates a wonderful evening of theater.