“Freud’s Last Session” at Taproot Theatre

It’s Sept. 3, 1939, the day England declared war on Nazi Germany, and Sigmund Freud has invited C. S. Lewis to tea. Two great minds, one old atheist at the end of a brilliant life, one young man in the early stages of his writing career, what on earth do they have to say to one another?

Well, quite a bit. Their conversation is witty, intellectually challenging, and positively electrifying. The play by Mark St. Germain (suggested by Armand M. Nicholi, Jr’s “The Question of God”) has been a hit off-Broadway for over a year, and opened in Chicago on the same date that it premiered here at Taproot. I’d be surprised if the New York or Chicago productions were much better than Taproot’s, directed by Scott Nolte.

Nolan Palmer embodies the Freud we think we know. He’s got the gestures, mannerisms, self assuredness, accent, even the pain and suffering from the cancer of the jaw that eventually killed him. Matt Shimkus as the much younger Lewis is at first tentativeness in the presence of greatness. Yet he holds his own. And, as he and Freud spar over issues related to the existence of God and the problem of evil, his reticence is left behind.

Scenic designer Mark Lund has recreated Freud’s study just as we might imagine it. The couch is covered in an Oriental rug. There are many bookshelves, vintage furniture, a large radio which periodically offers static-filled updates on the impending war. Most interesting is an enormous collection of tabletop sculptures of religious figures from around the world. Freud the atheist obviously finds the role of religion in human life an appropriate study for a philosopher/scientist.

If you like mind candy, plays where there’s more thoughtful discussion than action, this is one for you.

Through April 21 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85 St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

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