J. Michael Flynn as Sigmund Freud. Photo by Kevin Berne.
Is there a God? Is the notion of a Creator a pathetic delusion of desperate hominids?
Arizona Theatre Company's disappointing production of Freud's Last Session neither asks nor answers the question.
The premise of Mark St. Germain's play is of an imaginary meeting between the Atheist, Sigmund Freud and the Christian, C.S. Lewis in 1939 London the very day England enters the Great War. Freud is in the last, agonizing stages of oral cancer just a few weeks before receiving the self-prescribed morphine injection that killed him. We hear occasional radio bits broadcasting the voices of Neville Chamberlain and George the Sixth and dreadful news of bloody Nazi triumphs in Europe.
This critic found herself hoping - for she is a passionate lover of the art form - that Freud had actually summoned Lewis in order to be converted. If St. Germain had given the actors a smidgen of desperation on either character's part, perhaps the play might have taken us somewhere. Ultimately, we just don't care. No perception is changed, no discoveries made.
The lion's share of the blame for the weakness of the production belongs to both the playwright and the director, Stephen Wrentmore, though the acting should be much more solid than it is in the 90-minute performance. The script presents no stakes at all. Freud is an Atheist at the end, as he is at the beginning, and Lewis is every bit as Christian when he leaves as when he arrives. The weak dramatic question is asked by Freud - Why did Lewis convert back to Christianity after being a sane, pragmatic Atheist for most of his life? The two of them have a couple of semi-tense interactions and J. Michael Flynn presents some highly convincing moments as the tortured Freud dealing with his decaying mouth and jaw. Benjamin Everett missed the opportunity to ground Lewis' devout humanity in his horrifying personal reflections of the First World War, and his religious convictions come off ordinary and uninspired.
Set and lights by Kent Dorsey are ebullient, Annie Smart's costumes are predictable tweeds. Steve Schoenbeck's sound design is suprisingly mediocre, considering the resources available to him - barking dogs, sirens and other ambient noises sound like the recordings they are. The staging is poor, mostly due to the too-large space for such an intimate piece. The director has his actors attempting to use the whole space, as industry standard demands, and in typical LORT theatre fashion, it's over done. There is an embarrassing moment with a prosthetic upper jaw and stage blood, wherein the actors are forced to hide the fake action, but we see it all anyway, and then they finish off the show looking self-conscious about their stained red fingers.
Freud's Last Session runs at the Temple of Music and Art through February 9th. Details: arizonatheatreco.org.
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Jeanmarie Simpson has performed dozens of roles in regional theatre and stock in the US and Canada and began writing and directing while still in her teens. She is Founding Artistic Director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company, from which she retired in 2008. She wrote and performed 263 times the play "A Single Woman," about the life of first US Congresswoman and lifelong pacifist, Jeannette Rankin. She also starred in the film version that featured Judd Nelson, the voices of Martin Sheen and Patricia Arquette and the music of Joni Mitchell. In 2007, she appeared at the historic Beverly Hills Theatre 40 in the American premiere of the solo tour-de-force "Shakespeare's Will," produced by Leonard Nimoy. Jeanmarie is a practicing Quaker and life member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). In 2009, at Tucson's Rhythm Industry Performance Factory, Simpson opened in the solo performance, "Coming In Hot," in which she played 17 women who served in the US military. Simpson is co-adaptor of "Coming in Hot," which is based on the book, "Powder: writing by women in the ranks from Viet Nam to Iraq." For several years, she wrote art and theatre reviews and features for Buzzine.com. She now lives in Tucson Arizona where she writes, gardens and continues working as a prolific theatre professional. |