EXCLUSIVE: Dr. Freud, Have You Met C.S. Lewis? Actors of Freud's Last Session Sit Down for Analysis

By Kenneth Jones
22 Jul 2010

C.S. Lewis.
Mark: Now, the big question that I have for you is, has this play changed what you believe in, in any way? Has it forced you to reconsider?

Martin: No, it hasn't. But I'll tell you what it has done. It's made me look at the arguments, the back and forth, and look at both sides much more than I have in recent years in my life. I don't believe there's anything after death. I believe that the miracle of life is here and now, and I treat it as such, so for me the magic is that and not something that I hold onto that might come after. But I have come to understand better and appreciate more the argument on the other side of that, and what it has done is, actually, it's helped my own personal spirituality. Because although it hasn't changed me into thinking I'm going to go to heaven and all of those things, it has made me want to take some of the Christian ideals and bring them more into my life.

Mark: They can be pretty remarkable, can't they?

Martin: Yes. Powerful.

Mark: I feel the same way. Mine's kind of all of the above. I do have a strong spirituality, I think, but for me, I'd like to think that there's something out there, kind of watching over us. I do totally agree with you about the joy of the life that we're living, the joy of the moment, but I also think it would be really nice if there was some meaning behind all of it.

Martin: We could actually have our own debate right here, couldn't we? Just like the play. I think that's what's so wonderful about the play. It seems to me Freud would probably say we're born with parents, [and] therefore we're always looking for some father, mother, something, because it's a difficult world for all the creatures in it. I mean, it's dog eat dog and it's a vicious world in many ways, and nature's beauty is very functional. So I think it's natural for us to look at some nurturing larger force. I think, for me personally, I think of a higher power. It doesn't have [to be] some specific figure, it's just, there must be some intelligence to this somehow. And so I don't go beyond that, I just take the beneficence of that feeling and then get on with the day-to-day. [Laughs].

Mark: You know, one of the interesting things I've come to agree with Lewis is that he didn't necessarily think that religion in and of itself, organized religion, was the world's greatest thing. His issue wasn't the Church so much; it was more just a deeper spirituality than that. One of my favorite lines in the play that Mark has written is, "The greatest problem with Christianity are Christians, but you can't reduce a faith to an institution." I think that's really powerful, because for Lewis, it wasn't about the dogma of the church, necessarily. It was much greater than that, much bigger than that.

Martin: I had a thought about Brian Prather's set. I mean, obviously, it's my abode, as it were, that you come into, but we're both on it as actors and it's important that it's right for both of us. I feel terribly at home there, and I do go around looking at the knick-knacks and there are little favorite things that I have. I mean, I must say that the jar of mummified bandages is one of my favorite things, because we use it in the show, but I often have a look around at the other things. How does it feel for you as an actor?

Mark: I love it. I know many people have talked about the radio being the third character in the play, but I think the set in and of itself is as integral to what's happening as anything else. I think all of our designers have been amazing. Beth Lake, sound design. Clifton Taylor, lighting design. But in particular, Brian Prather's set design, I think, is amazing.

Martin: Well, we've all been on really awkward and difficult sets in our careers, I'm sure, but this one — well, first of all, it fits in the theatre so beautifully. I mean, it seems like an extension of the auditorium, which is wonderful. But it's such a small, real, warm, cozy set.

Mark: But at the same time, I love how kind of skewed and just a little strange it is, because then we have to remember that this meeting may never have happened. There is no real proof that this meeting happened.

Martin: And there is a sort of sense of it spinning in the black abyss of ever after.

Mark: Yes, I love that. It's slightly almost like Dorothy's house in "The Wizard of Oz" just as the storm is about to lift it up off the ground.

Martin: Yes, it is. It also, somehow for me, is very conducive to feeling very connected with the audience. Particularly these New York audiences — it's so wonderful how connected we feel to them. They're right there, and somehow the theatre is very alive that way. You can get a sense of them very quickly. But I feel incredibly at home on this set in this theatre.

Mark: I do, and I felt the same way at Barrington Stage Company…in their Stage 2, their smaller space. I think this show deserves that in a way, deserves this kind of intimacy. It's as if the audience is sitting there with us, as if they're sitting on the couch being analyzed by you.

Martin: And little did we know it was going to be the longest-running show in Barrington Stage history. It was supposed to be, like, a three-week gig, [five weeks] with rehearsal, and lo and behold, here we are, 70 shows later, in New York, taking bookings until the end of September and beyond.

Mark: How do you feel about the fact that so many people seem to be surprised that Freud took his own life? That's been buried under the carpet a bit.

Martin: Yes, There are icons where that sort of thing is important, like Marilyn Monroe, and there are icons where it's really inconvenient, and I think Freud is one of those. I think he's been a little bit sanitized, because it doesn't really fit the scenario of his life as an icon, I think. But final thoughts are that I'm always having final thoughts about Freud. I mean, he's an endless bucket to delve into as a character to play. I mean, every night, I sort of take him on and find new little things and colors in him, and then I'll go and read something about his life and look at some more photographs and just absorb that, and it seems to be an endless, ongoing process. And I really hope that that will continue, because, you know, as actors we need to be fresh and love to be fresh with the material, and I think by constantly going back to the source and finding new things, it's going to keep us fresh.

Mark: I agree. One of the things that I find personally so engaging about the script, is that here you have these two remarkable men, these two incredibly intelligent men, but the play is just, also, so remarkably funny.

Martin: Funny, funny, funny. It's the best of both worlds, because we've got a very real, good play with wonderful intellectual ideas that plays like a comedy. You have to say it. I mean, there are laughs constantly throughout the show. Some really big ones, and audiences go away not only feeling that they've seen a really great comedy, but also tones of comedy. Wit, sometimes farcical comedy, sometimes physically funny — almost slapstick, you would have to say.

Mark: Did you notice right away that it was funny? Because I did not.

Martin: No. A lot of people want the script after the show, because it's like a piece of complicated music [where] they want to follow the score. And so they hear us and they then want to go home and read the play. But when I read it, I didn't see any humor… Mark: I know. Who would have thought that a play that takes place as England is joining World War II, two weeks before Freud's death, that people would laugh [at it]?

Martin: It took me a while in rehearsal to understand that — though they have great debates and there's a lot of wit and humor — because Freud is frail and ill, there's an aspect of C.S. Lewis' Christianity (and his care and empathy) that perhaps reluctantly Freud begins to accept as he manifests more physical problems during the play. There's a tenderness that C.S. Lewis exhibits towards him and it's really a rather beautiful aspect of the play that develops as the play goes along. Don't you agree?

Mark: I do. I think one of the most fascinating things for me about playing Lewis is that this is a man who's lived on both sides of this coin. He was a believer the second half of his life and back and forth, believing and non-believing, the first half of his life. So I feel like he's got a great deal of understanding and compassion for where Freud is coming from. And I think it gives him — I don't know — his heart's enormous, because he understands and can truly appreciate the struggle that it takes on this journey to spirituality.

Martin: I'm not talking about the real Freud, but in our play, Freud probably is rather reluctant at first to accept this bond, but I think, as the play goes on, he does. It makes for a tenderness between them, I think. Definitely, at the end of the play, when we part, it's the parting of two people who have great respect and real affection for each other. They've been through air raids together, they've been through physical problems that Freud has had. They've been through really bad arguments and throwing mud at each other. They've been through the whole works.

Mark: Well, they've both lived through world wars, they've both lost people they loved desperately. They've both had a great deal happen to them.

Martin: Yes, and they've brought that to each other in some interesting way, so somehow their interaction, it feels like by the end, we've made a very deep bond. I mean, Freud says, "We will meet again, perhaps" and I think he really wants that.

Mark: I think so, too, and I actually think in a strange way, they are more similar than dissimilar, because they both care so deeply about this one subject, this one issue. They are so passionate about it, they've spent the greater majority of their lives researching and thinking, reflecting and searching.

Martin: It's wonderful that you said that word "passion" because I suddenly realize that Freud has a kind of brutal passion and Lewis has a gentle passion. But they're both equally intense, and I think it takes a while for Freud to realize that, that he's really met his match.

Mark: Yeah. Still waters run deep. And I love that about Lewis, too, because I don't think he comes to you with any intention of converting you. That was never his intention. One of the things that I loved in my research that I found out about him, one of the things that I remind myself generally before I go on every night, is that his intention was never to convert anyone. He just wanted people to understand, and if they needed a little bit more of it explained to them, then he laid it out for them. But the choice, for Lewis, is always yours, and I think regardless of where you fall, for Lewis, there was still profound respect and admiration.