What if Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, and C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia books, had sat down one day and talked? Do you think the subject of God might have come up? Is the pope Catholic?
Mark St. Germain's one-act play Freud's Last Session, now on stage at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach, imagines just such a scenario. It pits fierce atheist Freud against converted Christian Lewis in a battle of beliefs and wills, and it all happens on the exact day that Britain entered World War II. The premise is intriguing, but does it make for effective theater? It does in this North Coast Rep production, thanks to winning performances by Bruce Turk as Lewis and, even more so, Michael Santo as Freud, who, in St. Germain's play, is dying of oral cancer but is strong enough to hold his own in a philosophical fight.
Freud's Last Session's rise above what could have been talking heads spouting diametrically opposed views about God's existence (or non-existence), sexuality (of course—it's Freud!) and the universe is the product of the actors' commitment to their characters. Neither stops to speechify without directly addressing the other, believably sustaining the impression of two unwavering intellectuals respecting each other's strengths even as they discover each other's weaknesses. Director David Ellenstein keeps the pacing brisk, with both men usually on their feet and no stereotypical positioning of an upright Freud in a chair and Lewis reclined on a shrink's couch.
Besides the specter of the coming war, the fictional visit of Lewis to Freud's serene study (rich scenic design by Marty Burnett) is complicated by the doctor's worsening illness, which is depicted in vivid blood-red in one of the play's most audience-silencing junctures. Santo and Turk operate in an atmosphere of foreboding and tension, yet their debate is animated and spiced with bits of humor.
Freud's Last Session succeeds not only in shining a light on two fascinating historical figures, but also in provoking critical thought about the most enigmatic complexities of life and afterlife. It runs through Nov. 9. $37-$54. northcoastrep.org
Cellar Door : The brand-new New Fortune Theatre Company has a New Works Reading Series, and one of the first performances will be of this play about a Depression-era couple, whose Louisiana home is crumbling into a surrounding swamp, and the religious woman who shows up to help. It happens on Oct. 28 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. newfortunetheatre.com
Good People : A staged reading of a play about a struggling single mom in South Boston who thinks she's found a way out of financial trouble. Presented by Carlsbad Playreaders, it happens on Oct. 27 at the Carlsbad City Library. carlsbadplayreaders.org
The Great Divorce : The Christian-oriented theater group Fellowship for the Performing Arts brings to San Diego C.S. Lewis' exploration of Heaven and Hell. It'll be staged twice (4 and 8 p.m.) on Oct. 25 at the Balboa Theatre, Downtown. greatdivorceonstage.com/san-diego
Henry V : The first main-stage production of the New Fortune Theatre Company is Shakespeare's play about the young English king who leads his army into battle against France and woos a French princess. Opens in previews on Oct. 23 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. newfortunetheatre.com
Horror Unscripted : The Impro Theatre troupe will create a 1980s-style horror movie right there on the spot. It happens on Oct. 27 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
The Hunchback of Notre Dame : A new musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's story of the not-super-attractive bell ringer Quasimodo and the enchanting gypsy Esmeralda. Opens Oct. 26 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Johnny Tenorio : In celebration of Day of the Dead, Chronos Theatre Group will present a new version of the legend of womanizer Don Juan, and each performance will be followed by a fiesta. It'll be staged on Oct. 24, 25 and 31 and Nov. 1 at the 10th Avenue Arts Center in East Village. chronostheatre.com
The Picture of Dorian Gray : The second in New Fortune Theatre Company's New Works Reading Series is Richard Baird's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's story about hedonism and the fleeting nature of physical beauty. It happens on Oct. 27 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. newfortunetheatre.com
Rent : The rent is too damn high for a group of artists living in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Presented by the Southwestern College Theatre Department, it runs Oct. 22 through 25 at Mayan Hall Theatre on the campus in Chula Vista. swccd.edu
Spamalot : Fred is not yet dead in the musical version of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail . Opens Oct. 24 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Titus Andronicus : A staged reading of Shakespeare's ultra-violent tragedy about a Roman general who returns victorious from battle against the Goths, only to find more conflict. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it happens on Oct. 27 at the Encinitas Library. intrepidshakespeare.com
Peace Pilgrim : A play about the real-life Mildred Norman, who walked across the country numerous times to deliver a message of world peace. Presented by Plan the Plan Productions, it happens Oct. 23 and 24 at Twiggs Coffee House in University Heights. plantheplan.org
The Clean House : In case you missed it at PowPAC in June, it's the story of a woman, her maid who doesn't like cleaning houses and her husband who falls in love with another woman who's dying of cancer. Through Oct. 26 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Jersey Boys : The story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, in musical-theater form. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it runs through Oct. 26 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
North Park Playwright Festival : This series of new, very short plays runs through Oct. 26 at the North Park Vaudeville and Candy Shoppe. northparkvaudeville.com
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde : This is the 2009 adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher of the classic story of the good and evil that resides in us all. Through Nov. 1 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Bright Star : A world-premiere musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell about a soldier who returns home to North Carolina from World War II, hooks up with a literary-journal editor and, with her, discovers a life-changing secret. Through Nov. 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Fool for Love : Performed in rotation with True West , Sam Shepard's drama tells the tale of a woman resisting the offer to return to a dysfunctional existence with an old flame. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 2 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The Little Mermaid Jr. : An adaptation of the 2008 Broadway play about Ariel the mermaid, who wants to live in the terrestrial world. Through Nov. 2 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Les Miserables : In this classic musical, a poor Frenchman spends 19 years in prison after stealing a loaf of bread, only to escape and get caught up in a revolution under an assumed identity. Through Nov. 2 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
The Royale : In the early 20th century, a black heavyweight boxer finally has the chance to fight for the championship, but his sister is worried about the aftermath should he win. Through Nov. 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
She-rantulas from Outer Space in 3D : Back by popular demand—a comedy about an invading horde of mutant monsters and small-town mom who learns a horrible truth about her little daughter Suzie. Through Nov. 2 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
True West : Performed in rotation with Fool for Love , Sam Shepard's dark comedy is about two formerly estranged brothers—younger Austin, a screenwriter, and older Lee, a thief who horns in on Austin's career. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 2 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Freud's Last Session : Mark St. Germain's play chronicles a fictional meeting between renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and novelist C.S. Lewis. Through Nov. 9 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Rounding Third : Two dads clash amid conflicting Little League coaching styles. Through Nov. 9 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me : Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net