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Freud's Last Session In London on the day when Germany invades Poland in 1939, superstar father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, an unrepentant atheist, invites the brilliant young university professor C.S. Lewis, a devout Christian, to his home for a chat. In Mark St. Germain's bumpy yet intriguing two-character conversation, Freud's Last Session, feisty, hard-edged Freud (James Black) engages upright, morally unshakable Lewis (Jay Sullivan) in an 80-minute round of intellectual tennis. Their exegeses on Jesus, man's suffering, a bit of sex talk and lots of daddy issues ends up in a tie, while the drama takes a snooze. The debates are smart as the guys serve and volley with professional precision, batting back and forth such capital-letter subjects as emotion vs. intellect, faith vs. the scientific method, even fathers vs. sons. They are both expert at the game. "An insidious lie" is what Freud calls religion; "There is a God," counters Lewis. Curmudgeon Freud, dying from jaw cancer, usually gets the best lines, but Lewis parries with the finesse of youth and the implacable rightness in his Christian faith. Just as the game gets heated, it's invariably cut short by phone calls from the outside world to remind old Sigmund to turn on the radio to hear the latest bad news, or by the screech of air-raid sirens that sends both men scrambling for gas masks. The specter of death is close, adding a poignant, human touch to Freud's stoney pronouncements and Lewis's prim priggishness. The pain and grisly details of his cancerous disease soften Freud, as do Lewis's still-fresh memories of the horrors of trench warfare during WW I. While trying to present both sides without judgment, St. Germain drains the life out of the play, not that there aren't moments of levity during the dry debates about free will, moral conscience and obsessional neuroses. Both men get their share of audience sympathy. Although he appears as rumpled as his black suit, Black makes shuffling old Freud a still-smoldering volcano, bellowing smoke and fire when appropriate. The explosions sap him, leaving him more pained and therefore more resolute for his suicide to be. He's still a mighty lion and knows his place in history, but his body is broken, even if his ego is secure. As a young C.S. Lewis, before he became internationally famous as an unrepentant Christian from The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, Sullivan is as clean and bright as Freud is sooty. He's had his revelatory road-to-Damascus moment, and his conversion makes him shine. He radiates goodness and morality, with a whiff of insufferable rightness. If you're going to war with unbelievers, he could lead the troops into battle with unconquerable cheer. His jousts with Black sparkle. Directed with unmatched fluidity by Tyler Marchant, Freud moves swiftly. No one stays in one place very long, not even on that famous couch. Designed by Brian Prather, Freud's examining room is a hothouse beauty, draped in oriental rugs and cozy as a dream, with every nook holding leather-bound tomes or a phalanx of ancient statuary, guardian angels and totems that spur the mind. The set is the most well-appointed arena in town. Although Freud's Last Session resembles SparkNotes more than Tom Stoppard, St. Germain's game of advocates and adversaries is literate and adult and hinges on the mysteries of life. There's plenty to think about. We're grateful for that. Through February 23. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG

The Good Thief Playwright Conor McPherson attracted attention with this early 1994 play, and went on to write The Weir, winner of the Olivier Award as Best Play in 1999, and to receive a Tony nomination in 2008 for his The Seafarer on Broadway. The Good Thief is a one-man monologue filled with plot and events that are described in vivid detail by the unnamed narrator, a low-level Irish hoodlum portrayed by Santry Rush. It begins ominously as Rush mourns the loss of his girlfriend to a man higher up in the Irish underworld, assuring himself it was not much of a loss, but with a lingering resentment. The brutality of his speech and the coldness of his eyes indicate that violence comes easily to him, a ready solution for almost everything. There are increasing revelations of amorality and crassness, of insensitivity, but with the perception of a wounded animal searching the wind for the scent of danger. But not carefully enough, for an expedition to do some enforcing runs into a snag, and he becomes prey instead of predator. A gunfight launches him into flight across Ireland, accompanied by Mrs. Mitchell, survivor of the melee in which her husband was killed, and her young daughter. There is high adventure, and it becomes clear that those who embroil themselves with the narrator may wish they had never met him. Rush commands the stage with a powerful presence, seething with hostility, as he recounts horrific events with equanimity. We share in his desperate moments, and struggle to believe in a quasi-redemption that an extended sojourn in prison may have led to. John Tyson's deft direction matches Rush's compelling performance, and the gripping narrative speaks to the rich talents of playwright McPherson. Through February 15. Presented by Stark Naked Theatre Company at Studio 101, 1824 Spring, 832-866-6514. — JJT

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