Gallery 7 Theatre closed its 25th anniversary season with a bang at the end of May. Its final performance, Freud’s Last Session by playwright Mark St. Germain, depicts a fictional debate between C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud about the existence of God and what that means for humanity.
Freud, a devout atheist, argues the insanity of believing in a god. He invites over author C.S. Lewis, a former atheist now converted to Christianity. Their conversation takes place at the beginning of World War II, just following Hitler’s invasion of Poland. The air of war, death, fear, and horror makes its mark on the debate as it unfolds, allowing drama to spice up what would otherwise be a staged philosophical talk.
“It’s a really intimate play,” says Gallery 7’s executive and artistic director, Ken Hildebrandt, “and fits really well with the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, which is a smaller more intimate space.”
Upon entering the auditorium, the audience was greeted by a curious set designed by Brian Ball. Freud’s office is represented in a two-wall raised set made of bookshelves bent into a forced one-point perspective, decorated in mid-century furniture, including Freud’s famous patient’s chair. All of it was staged upon another layer of books, lining the raised flooring. The set design was gorgeous, well-crafted, and artful. The forced perspective allowed the two players to visually find places of power on the stage, helping the dynamics of the debate hit with emotional and academic precision. As stated in the program, Ball aimed to create a set “foreshadowing the destruction of London during the blitz.” What was achieved is a masterwork that visually captured the play in setting.
“I think in today’s world we need to be more open to relationships. You may discover a new friend, and heaven forbid, you may learn something new about the world around you.”
Actors Jay Danziger and John Dawson dominated their roles and filled their characters with life. They greeted the stage with energy, bringing Lewis and Freud, respectively, out of the history books. Dawson played an old and frail man well, who could find his strength in moments of great emotion, and with a impeccable German accent. Danziger worked well off of his co-star, portraying a meek yet fiery Lewis.
Their discussion ranged far, centering on the idea of disproving or proving God.
“It’s them having a conversation about some of life’s biggest questions: love, relationships, world circumstances, and of course sex has to be a part of that conversation, considering Sigmund Freud,” says Hildebrandt.
Although the discussion technically ends in a stalemate, theological idealism colours the entire production. Even Freud, who vehemently makes points against religion, uses the language of the bible to support arguments against it. The irony works against him. For instance, an anecdote of his time in the hospital, after being treated for his cancer, sees him being rescued by a crippled dwarf described in Christ-like fashion.
“One of the things that attracted me to the play [is] that there are two high-profile people engaging in a debate about big issues,” Hildebrandt explains. He believes the play brings forth a discourse about how we engage in discourse. Hildebrandt also notes that he fears that social media may be polarizing us, ruining our ability to have open discussions. “I think in today’s world we need to be more open to relationships. You may discover a new friend, and heaven forbid, you may learn something new about the world around you.
“When [you] see Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis — in this albeit fictional piece — going at it, you sense that they have this respect for one another.” This plays into one of Gallery 7’s central prerogatives; as Hildebrandt describes, “What we’re trying to do here is help people to engage on multiple levels: spiritual, emotional, intellectual about real issues in the world.”
The house was full for the May 27 evening performance. Ken Hildebrandt welcomed everyone on stage and Freud’s Last Session began with the sounds of war. It was the refined talent of the entire cast and crew at Gallery 7 that helped make the performance a highly effective one.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here at Gallery 7 over the last 25 years. It’s been a colourful mosaic of theatre,” said Hildebrandt, proudly. He went on to thank all of the supporters he’s had over the years, including long-time staff, actors, artists, and the community. “It’s a huge milestone. It’s a huge milestone for any organization, and I think it’s very significant for a live theatre, especially here in the Fraser Valley,” he says.
Gallery 7 had its beginnings in 1991 performing sketch collections, according to Hildebrandt, and has since grown into performing full-length plays regularly, with a diverse selection, including faith-based plays. When asked where he sees his company in the next 25 years he said he’d like to, “keep the doors open,” as well as focus on finding the theatre a building to call home. He would also like to see the theatre increase its programs for children and expand into after-school programs.
Now that the theatre season has drawn to a close, we can only now wait for their upcoming 26th annual season starting next winter. The lineup includes Halo by Josh McDonald, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin, and starts with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in November 2016.
Photos by Dianna Lewis Photography