My Session with the Doctor

With You Can’t Take It With You happily occupying the mainstage and 44 Plays for 44 Presidents campaigning for your laughter and applause in the Nextstage, we head back upstairs to the rehearsal room for our first session with the doctor.  Freud, that is… Rehearsals for Freud’s Last Session began yesterday and at first glance, you might think that the play has little in common with the first offerings of Geva’s season. After all, this is not a comedy, there are 2 actors instead of 19, and the play has one act – as opposed to the 3 acts of You Can’t Take It With You (YCTIWY) and the 44 short plays in…well… 44 Plays

But if we look deeper, we cannot avoid seeing the connections. Most obviously, the play is directed by Skip Greer, Geva’s director of education and artist in residence, who plays Paul Sycamore in YCTIWY. (How will he keep his sanity while directing one play during the day and acting in another in the evening? It’s surely no coincidence that one of the plays has a therapist and the characters in the other play are more than a little zany…) Freud and YCTIWY both take place in the 1930s – YCTIWY in 1936 and Freud three years later in 1939. It’s a very significant day – September 3, 1939. That’s the day that Great Britain entered World War II, after Hitler refused to stop his attack on Poland. Both plays, then, are filled with some of the same anxiety we might feel today – the anxiety over the economy and global politics. Both plays concern a search for truth. Grandpa Vanderhof in YCTIWY finds his truth in following his own passions, and in helping others to see the wisdom of that decision. Freud and C.S. Lewis also search for truth in Freud’s Last Session.

Yesterday’s rehearsal, the first time that Skip, our stage management team, Skip’s assistant director and I heard actors Ken Tigar and Ron Menzel read the script aloud, brought to light another aspect of the play.  In an interview in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, playwright Mark St. Germain claims, “I’ve always said to the actors that in the very beginning of the play, there’s only one motivation: Freud wants to prove that Lewis is an idiot and get him out in five minutes. But that changes and they have this respect that develops.” Yesterday, listening to Ken and Ron take on these characters with diametrically opposed viewpoints, we heard that respect within the play. We saw these characters deeply listening to each other’s points of view, and responding with intelligent counterpoints – not as a way to prove the other wrong, but as a way to search for the truth.

Which brings me back to my comparison of Freud’s Last Session to the other works on our stages. 44 Plays is a reflection of our political system, and of the kind of conversation that we see during political campaigns. Listening to Freud yesterday made me wonder how our system, our politicians, and our country as a whole, might change if we were all open to hearing each other’s ideas, and looking for truths as opposed to proving each other wrong. How many of those plays – or future plays that the Neo-Futurists might write – exhibit that openness to an actual search for truth, as opposed to the spin that you can’t quite trust? Perhaps that’s hopelessly naive, but a little optimism has never hurt anybody, has it? Doctor…?

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