Head to Head – Freud and Lewis face off in DIJO’s new production

Up until his death from jaw cancer, Sigmund Freud continued to see patients in his Hampstead, London home, having moved there from Vienna as the Nazis closed in. There is no reason to believe that he had ever heard of C.S. Lewis, author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” book series and atheist-turned-Christian convert, let alone invite him for a chat. But in the form of a what-if, Mark St. Germain’s “Freud’s Last Session” has these two influential writers and thinkers of the 20th century and chew the God-existing cud. Winner of the Off Broadway Alliance Award for best play in 2011, it has now be picked up and produced by DIJO Productions, and opens Saturday at Carpinteria’s Plaza Theater.

Behind the cigar and convincing beard stands actor Ed Giron, DIJO’s resident lead and go-to historical character actor. On the other side of the desk, playing C.S. Lewis, is Justin Stark. The actors haven’t sparred one-on-one since DIJO’s production of “Frost/Nixon,” and they’re loving it.

Ed Giron, left, and Justin Stark Mr. Stark, left, and Mr. Giron Matt Ehnes photos
Ed Giron, left, and Justin Stark
Mr. Stark, left, and Mr. Giron
Matt Ehnes photos
“We worked so well that this seems like an ideal proposition,” says Mr. Giron. “It’s a similar debate. This is point counterpoint.” But Frost and Nixon were both trying to resuscitate careers in the descendent. Here, Freud knows his legacy is somewhat safe, and Lewis is in the ascent.

“Freud wants to find out why a man who is so analytical, intellectual and good looking would deny the existence of evolution and science, and believe in Christ,” says Mr. Giron. “And it turns into a debate about sex, religion, philosophy and death.”

Producer Jerry Oshinsky had seen a revival production down in Los Angeles, starring Judd Hirsch and Tom Cavanaugh. Mr. Giron told his friend that the play would be an interesting thing to see. No, said Mr. Oshinsky, it would be an interesting thing to do.

The play is set three weeks before Freud’s death. World War II has unofficially broken out, and the Holocaust looms on the horizon. On top of this, Freud is in excruciating pain from his metastasizing cancer, and has to wear a prosthetic to keep his jaw working.

“But the thing about this play is that it’s quite funny, thank God,” says Mr. Giron. Mr. St. Germain, his background in sitcoms, has a flair for comedic writing. As Mr. Giron relates, Mr. St. Germain wanted audiences to see that beneath the battling philosophies are two people just talking to each other, and that in itself is humorous. Audiences should see early on that they have permission to laugh, MR. Giron says, and not that they’re in for an analytic session.

“I find all these plays stimulating in terms of history,” says Mr. Giron. “It makes me read and it makes me research. It keeps the synapses going.

“The key to Freud is his cynical, analytical mind that runs throughout, constantly exploring,” he says. “It’s his thirst for knowledge. The play is a dual analysis by two equally matched people that keeps Freud on his toes.”

All in all, the play is a great imaginary “boxing match” between the two, says Mr. Giron.

“They are two equals in the ring in regards to two separate opinions based on the same set of facts.”

‘Freud’s Last Session’
When: 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. through May 5
Where: Plaza Theater, 4916 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria
Cost: $12-$17
Information: 684-6380, www.plazatheatercarpinteria.com

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