Chicago, Wednesday, May 16, 2012. It isn’t often–however, more often in Chicago than many other places–that one is treated to such compelling theater as Freud’s Last Session, now playing at the Mercury Theatre.
The story is a fictional account of a meeting–that may or may not have taken place–between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud (Mike Nussbaum) and rising academic star C.S. Lewis (Coburn Goss). The men meet when Freud summons Lewis to his London home on the day England enters World War II. Lewis, expecting to be called on the carpet for satirizing Freud in a recent book, soon realizes Freud has a much more significant agenda.
Freud at 83 is suffering from terminal cancer and two weeks away from taking his own life. C. S. Lewis, age 41, is just coming into his own (before he’d written “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters”). The men are polar opposites in their beliefs and where they are in life.
Freud sees all religious fantasies as flowing from hidden psychological need or desire; while Lewis, a romantic ideologist, is determined to make the intellectual case for faith. For all their differences, the pair manage to have a civilized conversation on some very difficult questions–clashing on the existence of God, love, sex, and the meaning of life.
Freud’s Last Session opened at the Mercury Theatre with its original New York cast this March. This May local theater legend, Mike Nussbaum took over as “Sigmund Freud” and Coburn Goss stepped into the C.S. Lewis role–both without skipping a beat. I can’t imagine anyone having a better handle on the 83-year-old Freud than the 88-year-old Nussbaum. As for Goss, his fresh, humble give and take with Freud was respectful yet determined.
The entire show takes place in Freud’s London office. The exceptional set that re-creates Freud’s original Vienna office down to the last detail–featuring priceless statues of the gods and goddesses from various civilizations and religions, his desk, book-lined walls, Oriental rug, iconic couch, and his vintage radio that is turned on and off issuing war warnings–was designed by Brian Prather.
Freud’s Last Session, written by Mark St. Germain and suggested by a book called “The Question of God” by Armand M. Nicholai, Jr.was first given life in July 2010 at a small 145-seat theater at a Y.M.C.A on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
From its modest beginnings, the show became a word-of-mouth sensation taking Manhattan by storm, and pulling in the likes of New York’s celebrity scene including Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Neil Simon, Barbara Walters, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Gere, Olympia Dukakis, Peter Bogdanovich, Jerry Stiller, Roger Goodell, John Cleese, Patricia Heaton, Cornel West, Christiane Amanpour, Marcia Gay Harden, John Kander, Andy Rooney, Dick Cavett, Frank Oz, Dr. Ruth (6 times!), Peter Shaffer, Celeste Holm, The Amazing Kreskin, Victoria Jackson, TR Knight, Dan Lauria, Scott Adsit, Louis Zorich, Tina Louise, and Warner Wolf.
What is it about this show that strikes a chord with so many? Could it be its simplicity–letting the sincerity of pure theater shine through? No gimmicks, no flashing lights, no aerial acts, no nudity–just intelligent conversation interspersed with humor and passion, taking place between two respected 20th-century geniuses.
Director Tyler Marchant gives the actors the room and positioning they need for their debate to resonate. Mark Mariani designed the costumes, Clifton Taylor the lighting, and Beth Lake the sound.
Additional productions of Freud’s Last Session are set to open into 2013 in major markets across the nation and around the world, including London, Madrid, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Los Angeles, and Mexico City.
Mike Nussbaum has directed and acted in Chicago theaters for more than fifty years, originating roles in David Mamet’s: American Buffalo, Life in the Theatre, Glengarry Glen Ross, and others. He appeared in the Peter Brook production of The Cherry Orchard, which opened in New York and toured Russia and Japan. He has worked on and off-Broadway, and in Dublin, Vancouver, The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, England, and theatres across the United States including Hartford Stage, Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theatre Club, Atlantic Theater Company, Theatre J, and Roundabout. Shakespeare roles include Polonius, Shylock, Friar Lawrence, and John of Gaunt at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Film credits include House of Games, Fatal Attraction, Field of Dreams, and Men in Black. His work has been honored with an Emmy and a Drama Desk Award, and by the Jefferson Committee, DePaul University, The Illinois Legend Award, and The University Club of Chicago.
Coburn Goss has acted at numerous Chicago productions including the world premiere of Vigils and The Crowd You’re In With at the Goodman Theatre; Fake, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, When the Messenger is Hot, The Royal Family and Absolution at Steppenwolf Theatre Company; Dying City and The Boarding House at Next Theatre Company; The Seagull at Writers’ Theatre; and A Whistle in the Dark and Journey’s End at Seanachaí Theatre. His off-Broadway credits include When the Messenger is Hot at 59E59 Theaters. His regional credits include The Last True Believer at Seattle Repertory Theatre and Irish Crazy Jane and The Good Times Are Killing Me at Arkansas Repertory Theatre. Film credits include The Lucky Ones, Joshua, Shelter and What Women Want. Television credits include Dirty Medicine, Reconstruction, The Chicago Code, The Beast, Prison Break and ER.
Tickets and Performances.
The performance schedule is Wednesdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 1pm and 5pm. Tickets range from $45 to $59. Student tickets are $22 (with valid student ID). Appropriate for ages thirteen (13) and up. For tickets and information contact the Mercury Theater at 773-325-1700 or online. For groups of ten or more, call Group Theater Tickets at 312.423.6612. For more information, visit www.FreudsLastSession.com.