Sept. 3, 1939, was the day Britain entered World War II.
Sept. 3, 1939, was also the day famed psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud invited “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters” author and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis to his study to debate the existence of God, love, sex, war and more, just weeks before Freud took his own life.
In “Freud’s Last Session,” playwright Mark St. Germain imagined how such a conversation between the two revered men might have gone.
Stage Left Theater’s production of “Freud’s Last Session,” starring J.P. O’Shaughnessy as Freud and Dalin Tipton as Lewis, opens Friday and runs through Dec. 17.
German dramatist Bertolt Brecht’s “Galileo” was originally scheduled for the December slot at Stage Left, but the theater decided to save that play for another time because of the large cast and many set changes it required.
“Freud’s Last Session” was suggested, and managing director Tia Wooley reached out to director Susan Hardy, who was at one point going to direct the show at another theater.
Hardy was unavailable but suggested Pam Kingsley, who moved back to Spokane from Indiana in July.
“I said ‘Yes!’ right away because I knew the play and knew how wonderful it was,” Kingsley said before a recent rehearsal.
O’Shaughnessy auditioned because he was interested in the challenge of becoming Freud.
“To learn about Freud, to express some of the same thoughts that I have about life, God, religion, whatever,” he said. “I don’t agree with Freud on everything, but it’s fascinating, and there’s a lot of humor in the show.”
Tipton, too, was interested in Lewis’ views, which he said were the opposite of his own.
“There might be one or two places where he appeals to love and joy that I agree with, but theologically, I think I disagree with him very much,” he said. “One of my favorite quotes from literature is from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’ Atticus Finch says ‘You never really know someone until you get in their shoes and walk around a little bit,’ and it felt like the perfect opportunity to do that.”
The challenge of performing a two-man show, where both characters are onstage nearly the entire time, was also part of the reason O’Shaughnessy and Tipton were interested in auditioning.
The pair had never worked together before – “I have clothing older than Dalin,” O’Shaughnessy said – but both felt like they were really pushing each other, like Freud and Lewis do in the play, when they were paired up during auditions.
Kingsley and stage manager/assistant director Andrea Tate felt it too.
“It worked immediately and it’s gotten better and better,” Tate said.
To further dive into their roles, O’Shaughnessy and Tipton researched the lives of Freud and Lewis, looking at how events from their pasts (Freud’s escaping the Nazis and the deaths of his daughter and granddaughter, the deaths of Lewis’ beloved dog and his mother during his childhood) shaped their views on the topics discussed in the play.
“What I think is wonderful about the actors that are in this show playing these two characters is they’ve embraced the essence of the men that they are portraying, but they haven’t tried to caricature them,” Kingsley said. “While some of it is outside in, costume, shoes, accent, a lot of it is inside out, what the substance of the men are. That’s what really good acting is.”
Researching their roles and rehearsing the play hasn’t made either O’Shaughnessy or Tipton make an about-face on an opinion, but it has given them different perspectives on the topics discussed in the play.
Which, if you ask the quartet, is the point of “Freud’s Last Session.”
“It’s definitely a show that people are going to walk away from and have some rigorous debates in the car,” Tate said. “That’s definitely the goal for us.”
“One of the things that we hope people will take away is the opportunity to do some critical thinking and to look at other people’s beliefs in an open-minded way,” Kingsley said.