FREUD VS. LEWIS
The Fight of a Century
Trinity St. Theatre, through Oct. 18
by Michael Abedin, Austin All Natural
Imagine an alternate universe, one that occurs on a single evening during a series of real-life events in September of 1939.
September 1st – the Nazis invade Poland, kicking off World War II. The next day, September 2nd, three British schoolgirls arrive at the Oxford manor of an Irish writer, to escape German bombs expected to be falling on London. On September 3rd Great Britain declares war on Germany, entering WW II.
Less than three weeks later, September 23rd, Sigmund Freud – founder of psychoanalysis, one of the most brilliant minds of his century, and an atheist’s atheist – dies.
Later in September, the Irish writer starts a story – about British schoolchildren sent to live in a country manor to escape London bombing. A decade later, Clive Staples Lewis finishes The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, the beginning of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Seems C.S. had rebelled against his Irish Protestant roots and became an atheist as a teenager, into the occult and Icelandic lore. (Heavy metal hadn’t been invented yet, or he would have cranked some up on the gramophone.) He did, however, eventually meet J.R.R Tolkien, who helped coax him back into the church – the Protestant Anglican Church instead of Tolkien’s Catholic congregation, much to the chagrin of the daddy of the Hobbits.
Lewis was grateful enough to Tolkien for leading him back to the flock of the faithful that he decided he wasn’t a bad fellow – for a Papist.
Cue up the alternate universe.
Lewis used his writing to take issue with the recently departed Freud about religion and such, and made Aslan, Narnia’s talking lion, do everything short of walking on water then turning it into wine to make it clear he’s a stand-in for Jesus.
His reconversion seemed to leave him plenty of moral wiggle room. While he was writing Narnia he was living – in sin, apparently – with the mother of an army buddy killed in World War I. He was eighteen when they met, she was forty-five, he was estranged from his father – and he called her “Mother.”
In whatever afterlife Jewish atheists populate, Freud – who coined the term “Oedipus complex” – had to be smiling and nodding, through the haze of a cigar that is only a cigar.
And so the stage is set for the alternate universe of Freud’s Last Session, a two-man play by Mark St. Germain, based on the book The Question of God. Freud and Lewis square off in a juicy, fictitious duel of wits in Freud’s office, thrusting and parrying over love and life and sex and God – the day before September 3, 1939.
The Austin production features Tyler Jones as Lewis and long-time Austin radio personality and Zach alumni David Jarrott (who also produced the play) as Freud. The set is a carefully curated reproduction of Freud’s actual London office, based on archival photos, and the setup of the Trinity Street Theatre venue makes you feel like a ringside referee for their match – when Freud has a coughing fit from the illness that would lead to the end of his life less than three weeks later, you can see the sweat beading on his face.
In a couple of tasty ironies, the venue for the Austin production is in a Baptist church – on Trinity Street, no less – and in a post-production Q&A, it’s revealed what the speculative reason was for Freud’s almost evangelical atheism.
He was, it seems, mad at God.
Freud’s Last Session, Wednesday-Sunday through October 18, Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity. Showtimes, tickets: www.JarrotProductions.com