Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis never met, but that doesn’t really matter. In Mark St. Germain’s powerful two-hander, the playwright imagines the engrossing conversations on God, death, war and psychoanalysis in impassioned and surprisingly comedic fashion. As Stageworks Theatre’s Artistic Director Michael Montgomery describes it, Freud’s Last Session is “almost a frenemy play. It’s about two people who are polar opposites and we get a peek inside their heads.”
Stageworks Theatre, previously known as Houston Family Arts Center, will be presenting plays all season under the banner theme of “With A Little Help From Your Friends,” and considering their upcoming choices (The Odd Couple, The Producers, Oliver! and Wizard of Oz), it’s easy to see the through-line. But how does Freud fit in that bunch? “We wanted to find shows that weren’t all pie-in-the-sky, let’s all get along, smiley plays,” Montgomery expels. “We wanted some contrast.”
If heated ideological debates seem especially timely at the moment, Montgomery insists that’s merely lucky happenstance. “In today’s political arena we seem to have thrown civil debate out the window. But this show touches on a world where we can have disagreements, without being too entrenched in who’s right and who’s wrong. These men help each other.”
Directed by Lisa Garza, Montgomery (who also serves as the show’s producer) says that she was a natural choice to lead, partly due to her award-winning experience designing sets. “She’s taken the last 12 months to build an exact replica of Freud’s office. The bookcases are individually made, and each book is handcrafted. [Freud] had thousands of books, books you can’t just run out and buy.” The set, Montgomery goes on, is novel for more than its abundance of detail. “It’s almost like you’re going to a talk show, in some ways, like Stephen Colbert’s or something. We’re not actually saying ‘you’re literally in London,’ we’re saying ‘you’re in a really cool set!’”
Beyond his ornate stage design, Montgomery credits Garza’s “technical wizardry” for working up the show’s intimate moments. “Lisa has an uncanny ability to work complex ideas on stage. Normally, you’d think that two people on a stage [leads to] no action, no dancing, no music,” he says, acknowledging the dry natures of the material might lead to production that drags. “But she has a knack for unusual pacing, that really gets this story to pop.”
While Stageworks’ name may be new, they’re hardly a group of rookies. Under their previous moniker, Houston Family Arts Center, Montgomery’s theater has been servicing their corner of Northwest Houston since opening their gates in 2005. On the name change, Montgomery says their rational was
two-fold. “From a pure marketing stand point, I don’t think a lot of people knew what we did, ‘cause of that name. People would drive right past our theater and have no idea what we were doing inside.” On the second front, Montgomery targeted the word ‘family’ as potentially limiting. “We’re not removing ‘family’ from the theater, we’re expanding its definition. It’s not just the mother, father and child anymore. Now family can mean two fathers, or two mothers or a single parent. I think this [name change] has brought diversity and opened our doors to even more people, hoping to join our family.”
If the hour-fifteen playtime isn’t enough discussion for you, be sure to stick around for the 15 minute post-play, featuring method actors Sean Thompson and John Moonen attempting the impossible and improvising unrehearsed answers to your burning audience questions. “A lot of these questions we raise here will not be finished. Does God exist or not?” the artistic director asks. “People are going to have questions, and we want to give them an outlet to talk about it. Both these actors have done tremendous amounts of research and can really submerge themselves in these roles. So we’re gonna have a fun little debate with some audience members.” Never pass up a chance on some free therapy, people.
Performances are scheduled for August 26 through September 18 at 3 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 10760 Grant. For information, call 281-587-6100 or visit stageworkshouston.org. $15-$23.