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To Believe, or Not to Believe?

Jan 28 2011
Terry Teachout | Wall Street Journal

In the cash-strapped but quality-conscious world of regional theater, a smart small-cast show about a famous personage of the past is about as close as you can get to a sure thing. It stands to reason, then, that Palm Beach Dramaworks, whose slogan is "Theatre to Think About," should have rushed to put "Freud's Last Session," Mark St. Germain's two-man play about an imaginary meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, onto the tiny stage of its 84-seat theater. This show, which was originally developed in West Palm Beach, has since had highly successful runs Off Broadway, where it just reopened after a seven-week hiatus, and before that at Massachusetts' Barrington Stage Company, where it received its official premiere two summers ago. Now that I've seen the Florida version, I know why: Mr. St. Germain has written one of the most stimulating plays of its kind to come my way. ...This production, which has been lucidly staged by William Hayes, the company's artistic director, is a good example of Palm Beach Dramaworks' brainy approach. The acting is sharp, sympathetic and detailed. Mr. Creaghan has been made up to look exactly like Freud, and Michael Amico's set is a fabulously precise evocation of the Viennese doctor's cluttered consulting room, right down to the shawl on his clients' couch. Even the re-created BBC broadcasts sound believable. Yet nothing that we see or hear onstage is allowed to shift our attention from the play itself, and the fact that no one in the theater is more than a few feet from the stage makes you feel as though you're part of the conversation. ...This is my third visit in the past three seasons to Palm Beach Dramaworks, where I previously saw Eugène Ionesco's "The Chairs" and Michael Frayn's "Copenhagen," two demanding small-cast plays that the company performed with similar intelligence and brio in front of packed houses. Anyone who supposes that Palm Beach is the exclusive property of rich airheads with great tans would appear to be all wet.