This production was scheduled August 18-20, 2023.

Morro Bay’s only live theatre company provides a valuable service to the community with its annual schedule of full-fledged plays and staged readings. Not only does By the Sea Productions provide an outlet for local actors and crew members to practice their treasured craft, the all-volunteer group offers up a variety of theatrical productions that may be unfamiliar to Central Coast audiences.

Such is the case with its latest show, Freud’s Last Session, a two-person pastiche (plus one voice-only role) written by Mark St. Germain that appeared briefly off-Broadway in 2010 (winning a Best Play Award from the Off Broadway Alliance in the process). It’s essentially a fictionalized debate between psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (played by Don Gaede) and author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis (played by Samvel Gottlieb). It plays one weekend, three performances only, August 18-20, at 545 Shasta Avenue in Morro Bay.

Rhonda Crowfoot ably directs Gaede and Gottlieb in this staged reading, as they tackle the wide-ranging conversation in an intense but absorbing 75 minutes (with a short intermission).

Gaede approaches his role with an intellectualism and gusto that brings Freud alive, even as his character shows signs of his imminent death due to inoperable cancer of the jaw (Freud died in London in 1939 on the eve of World War II).

Gottlieb plays the much younger Lewis with a twinkle in his eye and the sense of having a secret knowledge, appropriate because he is the one arguing that although he questions his beliefs daily, he unequivocally declares “There is a God.”

Of course Freud’s answer to that is “The very concept of God is ludicrous.” And so it goes, through philosophical discussions of the meaning of pain and suffering, parent/child relationships, suicide, humor, the rise of Hitler, and of course sex (this is Freud, after all).

For a staged reading, the company has gone all out to embellish this cerebral exchange. The set, representing Freud’s study, is filled with interesting art and antiques, including a vintage radio set that at intervals broadcasts the day’s news—mostly of impending war—and classical music. The sound effects and lighting are well-produced, thanks to production coordinator Janice Peters, light and sound technician Jatzibe Sandoval, music consultant Marian Martinez, and last but certainly not least, Gregory DeMartini’s fine voice performance as a BBC announcer.

Most of the discussion takes place with the two men seated in comfortable chairs next to the radio, decked out in clothes true to the period. Even with scripts in their hands—really the only sign that this is a staged reading—Gaede manages to wield his thin cigar in powerful jabs (yes, even with cancer Freud still smokes) and Gottlieb animatedly pursues his points, sitting up or slumping back in a way that reminds you he is the younger, stronger man.

Freud ultimately declares that “One of us is a fool.” Although he is the one left alone onstage at the end of the play, the radio is broadcasting King George VI’s speech recognizing war is at hand, closing with the words “ . . . with God’s help we shall prevail. May he bless and keep us all.”

So in the end, you can contemplate all that’s been said, consider the historical timeline, and ponder what it means to be human. One interesting note: Freud’s Last Session was recently made into a film, starring Anthony Hopkins and Matthew Goode, that is scheduled for release in theatres this fall. Why wait? By the Sea Productions has delivered the goods for you to enjoy today.

:: Charlotte Alexander