Filled with humanity, humor, and razor-sharp dialogue, Freud’s Last Session imagines the meeting of two of the 20th century’s greatest academics. On the brink of war in Europe, author and former atheist C.S. Lewis visits the London home of Dr. Sigmund Freud. Lewis’s recent embrace of Christianity stands in stark contrast to Dr. Freud, whose beliefs are influenced by his life’s work in science. Amidst evacuations and air raid sirens these two legendary scholars debate religion, sex, love, the existence of God, and the meaning of life itself.
“Exciting and thought-provoking… riveting theater.”
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Funded in part by a generous grant from the Gregory E. Bulger Foundation.
Dr. Sigmund Freud
Dr. Sigmund Freud
JOEL COLODNER* returns to New Repertory Theatre after performing in Regular Singing, Freud’s Last Session, Imagining Madoff, The Elephant Man, Three Viewings, and Indulgences. Other area credits include Sorry and That Hopey Changey Thing (Stoneham Theatre); Sweet and Sad (Gloucester Stage); It’s a Wonderful Life, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Mrs. Whitney (Merrimack Repertory Theatre); Our Town (Huntington Theatre Company); The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev (Lyric Stage Company); The Light in the Piazza (SpeakEasy Stage Company); and numerous roles with Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Regional credits include Streamers, Comedians, and Hamlet (Arena Stage); The Rainmaker (Guthrie Theatre); An American Clock, Measure for Measure, and Wild Oats (Mark Taper Forum); The Threepenny Opera (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis); and The Seagull (Pittsburgh Public Theatre). Off-Broadway credits include How I Learned to Drive (Vineyard Theatre). Broadway credits include work with the Acting Company and Phoenix Theatre. Television credits include Moonlighting, Remington Steele, Eight is Enough, Highway to Heaven, St. Elsewhere, 21 Jump Street, Cagney and Lacey, and LA Law. Mr. Colodner earned his BA from Cornell University and MFA from Southern Methodist University. Originally from New York, he resides in Portsmouth, NH.
JIM PETOSA (Director, Artistic Director) joined New Repertory Theatre as an award-winning theatre artist, educator, and leader in 2012. He has served as Director of the School of Theatre, College of Fine Arts, at Boston University since 2002, and Artistic Director of Maryland’s Olney Theatre Center for the Arts and its National Players educational touring company (1994-2012). While at Boston University, he established the Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP), the professional production extension of the Boston University School of Theatre, in 2008. Throughout the Northeast, Mr. Petosa has directed for numerous institutions, including The Gift Horse, Brecht on Brecht, Good, Freud’s Last Session, The Testament of Mary, Broken Glass, Assassins, On the Verge, The Elephant Man (IRNE Nomination), Amadeus, Three Viewings, The Last Five Years, and Opus at New Rep. In Boston, his work was nominated for two IRNE awards for A Question of Mercy (BCAP). He has served as one of three artistic leaders for the Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) since 1987. In Maryland, his work earned over 25 Helen Hayes Award nominations as well as the award for outstanding direction of a musical for Jacques Brel is Alive and Well… His production of Look! We Have Come Through! was nominated for the Charles MacArthur Award for outstanding new play, and he earned the Montgomery County Executive’s Excellence in the Arts and Humanities Award for Outstanding Artist/Scholar. A member of Actors’ Equity Association, Mr. Petosa has served on the executive board of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for StageSource. Originally from New Jersey, he was educated at The Catholic University of America and resides in Quincy.
*member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States
◊ member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society
º member of United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829
|Click to reserve your complimentary spot!|
|Tuesday, April 12|
|“Meet and Greet” the cast, designers, crew and New Rep Staff, then hear a read-through or sing-through of the play.|
|Wednesday, April 27 at 6:30pm|
|Observe 30 minutes of the company’s first day rehearsing on the Charles Mosesian Theater stage, followed by a conversation with New Rep artistic staff.|
|Click to reserve your complimentary spot!|
|The Relationship between Science and Religion||Sunday, May 1 following the 4pm matinee|
|Theatre artists, area academics, and experts explore and discuss ideas related to the play and how they impact our world.|
Notes by Lea Phillips, edited by Ruth Spack
In The Question of God, Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, critically compares the theories and experiences of C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud, two of the twentieth century’s most eloquent thinkers. The book serves to examine human life from diametrically opposed points of view: those of the believer (Lewis) and the unbeliever (Freud). While Freud died before Lewis published his major works and there is no evidence that the two ever met, there is reason to believe that Lewis formulated many of his beliefs in reaction to Freud’s now-famous theories. Mark St. Germain’s play, Freud’s Last Session, imagines the stimulating debate that would inevitably arise if these two great men did meet in person.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Sigismund (later changed to Sigmund) Schlomo Freud was the eldest of eight in a traditional Jewish family. While he was tutored in the Torah by his father, he was also exposed to Christianity at a young age by his Catholic nursemaid. After spending his early years in the Jewish town of Freiberg in the Austrian Empire, Freud’s family relocated to Vienna, a predominantly Catholic city, when his father lost his job. His family was relegated to a Jewish ghetto and experienced prevalent antisemitism. Nicholi suggests that Freud’s later disgust with religion may have derived from the persecution he and his family faced due to their Jewish identity.
In 1873, Sigmund Freud began his studies at the University of Vienna, where he pursued a degree in medicine. While he is now known as a fervent atheist, it was during this time that he began to entertain his religious doubts. His philosophy professor, Franz Brentano, piqued Freud’s curiosity in religion as he explained the existence of God from a scientific standpoint. However, most of Freud’s professors shared a different viewpoint. Secularism was increasingly popular in academia, especially after the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species fourteen years earlier. Freud was exposed to many books that suggested science and religion could not be reconciled. By the time Freud graduated, his views were set and he served as a spokesman for atheism for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, biblical stories such as Joseph and the Magic Dream Coat retained some influence over him. Freud saw a bit of Joseph in himself, for he interpreted dreams just as Joseph had done for the Pharaoh.
Freud’s Major Work
After his marriage to Martha Bernays and the birth of his six children (Mathilde, Jean-Martin, Oliver, Ernst, Sophie, and Anna), Freud published a major work on the study of neurosis with Josef Breuer, a well-established physician and researcher. Their 1895 book, Studies on Hysteria, was based on intensive work with patients and laid the foundation for modern psychology with its groundbreaking theories. Freud went on to write nineteen other books, one of the most well-known being The Interpretation of Dreams. In it he claims “it is only after seeing man as his unconscious, revealed by his dreams, presents him to us, that we shall understand him fully.”
Just as Freud sought to explain dreams and hysteria through his theories, he also sought to deconstruct God. He pathologized piety as the “universal obsessional neurosis of humanity” based on man’s needs to feel protected from a strange and terrifying world. He encouraged his followers to rid themselves of their childish reliance on God.
Freud is now considered one of the most influential scientific minds in history, his work having created the basis for psychotherapy. While some of his ideas, like the Oedipus Complex, are highly questioned, his concepts of the unconscious and repression are embedded into Western culture, deeply influencing how we understand ourselves.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
Clive Staples Lewis, the grandson of a minister, was born to a Protestant family in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland). Many of his earliest memories were of playing with his older brother, Warren, in the church pews under their grandfather’s reproachful glare. Warren and Jack, as Lewis preferred to be called, were inseparable playmates. Their time together exploring the outdoors served as the foundation of Lewis’s strong imagination and fascination with nature.
When he was nine, Lewis’s mother’s health diminished along with his sense of security. He had been taught that through fervent prayers anything was possible, but he was unable to prevent his mother’s passing in 1908. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, written in 1955, Lewis explains that, “with my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.” This experience marked the beginning of his disdain for religion, which he maintained into adulthood.
After fighting in World War I, Lewis received a degree in Classics and Philosophy from Oxford University in 1922. Similar to his peers and teachers, he considered religion to be “utterly false…a kind of endemic nonsense into which humanity tended to blunder.” However, through further self-examination, C.S. Lewis discovered that his attitudes toward God were much more complex than he had realized. In his autobiography, Lewis describes how “at that time I was living like many atheists, in a whirl of contradictions… I maintained that God did not exist… I was also very angry with him for not existing.”
Like any scholar, he decided to look into the subject from as much of an objective standpoint as possible. He studied the New Testament in Greek and was surprised by his conclusion that the text was written much more like an eyewitness account than a myth. He also sought guidance from two of his close friends and committed Christians, writers J.R.R. Tolkein and Hugo Dyson. When they showed him how one could be both an intellectual and a believer, he decided to accept the Christian faith.
Lewis’s Major Work
During the Second World War, C.S. Lewis allowed four child evacuees to stay at his home in Oxfordshire. When one of the children asked what was inside his large, old wardrobe, she inspired Lewis to write The Chronicles of Narnia, a popular series of children’s novels about a magical world found behind a wardrobe. Full of religious allegories, the books address morality and the fight of good against evil.
For example, in the sixth Narnia book, The Silver Chair, Lewis uses his fictional world to debate Freud’s arguments against religion. When a character called the Lady of the Green Kirtle, who has lived underground her entire life, is told of the wonders of the outside world of Narnia, she rejects these ideas as childish fantasies. The Prince of Narnia tries to make her understand the idea of the sun by likening it to a lamp that hangs in the sky, but the Lady, much like Freud, is convinced that anything outside of her own realm of understanding must be a hopeful dream extrapolated from the ordinary things around her.
Lewis also covered topics of morality and spirituality in his radio talks for the BBC which aired between 1942 and 1944. He discussed his concept of “moral law” or how humans have an intuitive sense of morality given to them by God. His crisp voice became the second most recognizable on the BBC after Churchill’s and provided comfort to a nation in turmoil.
C.S. Lewis’s work questioned the concept that faith and reason are incompatible. As an Oxford-educated man who had spent his early life as an atheist, he was able to align the scientific perspective with the perspective of the religious community. As Vernon White, a theologian at Westminster Abbey said, Lewis “was able to convey the Christian faith in a way that made it both credible and attractive to a wide range of people.”
“About C.S Lewis.” The Official Website of C.S. Lewis. Harper Collins, n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.
“CS Lewis to Be Honoured in Poets’ Corner.” BBC News. N.p., 22 Nov. 2012. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.
Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
Freud, Sigmund, and James Strachey. The Future of an Illusion. New York: Norton, 1975. Print.
Gewertz, Ken. “The Question of God.” Harvard University Gazette. 19 Sept. 2002. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan Pub., 1952. Print.
Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956. Print.
Nicholi, Armand M. The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. New York: Free, 2002. Print.
Thornton, Stephen P. “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.
“Two Different Lives.” PBS. WGBH Educational Fund, 2004. Web. 03 Apr. 2015.