Shuffling. Chatting. Sitting. Lights dimming.

“Please put your cell phones away.”

Action. 

As I sat in my seat – third row, middle – I could feel anticipation building. When I first heard about “Freud’s Last Session,” I thought that an hour-long play about a psychoanalyst and a philosopher-theologian might get mundane within the first 10 minutes. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Walking around the lobby of the Magnuson Theatre pre-show, it became obvious that the soon-to-be audience members were enthusiastic about the show. They, too, shared my anticipation.

Minutes before the show started I made two observations. First, the audience was pretty diverse: Gonzaga students, Spokane community members and Gonzaga staff and faculty members. In fact, Gonzaga students comprised the minority. Second, there were only two empty seats in the entire theatre.

The show, which ran just over an hour, had only two actors. Sigmund Freud, a skeptically brilliant man, was portrayed by Marti Runnels – who is currently the dean of the School of Fine Arts and director of theatre at Wayland Baptist University. His counterpart in the production, Cory Norman, was equally brilliant in his portrayal C.S. Lewis. Norman is currently the graduate admissions and recruitment coordinator for the School of Theatre and Dance at Texas Tech University.

Hailey Maher, a sophomore at Gonzaga, enjoyed seeing, “personified versions of these two incredible thinkers and ideas that lend well to a liberal arts education.”

The entire play takes place in one place, in a single city, on a single day: Freud’s study, in London, on the morning of Sept, 3, 1939. During this single morning, Freud and Lewis vehemently debated and defend their opinions on topics such as God, religion and sex – rarely agreeing on anything. 

“I absolutely loved it,” said junior philosophy and religious studies student Ally Clapp. “It was an hour and a half, with only two people, and consistently kept my attention.

Runnels and Norman did something remarkable with their portrayals of these two men: they took what could have been pedantic material and brought it to life with dashes of humor and intense emotion. One moment, they would have the audience laughing and then in the next moment, gasping at the sound of air horns or as one of the characters recounted a painful memory.

 The set for the show is deliberate and simple. It is, in fact, just a room with a table, some chairs — and, of course, a “traditional” Freudian therapy couch. This simplicity accomplishes two thingsfirst, it allows the audience to focus on the dialogue of the characters and makes it even more powerful. Second, it provides a perfect backdrop for details of the room – such as Freud’s collection of small Greek statues, by which he was obviously fascinated.

Additionally, the two actors made masterful use of the space. As the two moved artfully around the space, it was almost like watching a duel. At first, Lewis ended up on Freud’s couch, but, as the argument progressed, I became witness to the ironic juxtaposition of Freud on his own couch. The tables got turned like this time and time again. 

“It was a well performed, high-quality show that was thought-provoking and humorous,” said Angela Ruff, special projects manager at GU.

The true beauty of the piece, though, came in the form of the humanization of the two men. Whether it was due to an interruption by air horns or Freud’s health concerns, the audience was able to forget about the deep academic and philosophic ideas being discussed, and remember that both of these legends were still people, too. 

And, as Lewis so wisely conceded in the end, “It was madness to think we could solve the greatest mystery of all time in a single morning.”

The final showing was Saturday, Sept. 10 in the Magnuson Theatre. 

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