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Lewis, Freud debate matters of life, faith

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    Paul T. Mitri portrays Sigmund Freud (with beard) and donovan Oakleaf is C.S. lewis in a production of “Freud’s last Session.” Mark St. Germain’s play, depicting an informal debate on God and Christ between lewis and Freud, is presented at C4 Christ Centered Community Church at Kahala Mall and directed by Mark Branner.

The audience gets to be the proverbial “fly on the wall” during a sizzling dialogue between Christian novelist C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychoanalysis, as they duel over faith and science in an award-winning play showing at two Honolulu churches this month.

In “Freud’s Last Session,” the two clash over the meaning of life and other timeless questions in a production that won rave reviews and the 2011 best play award from the Off-Broadway Play Alliance.

Nine performances were scheduled from Friday to Sept. 20, but when they sold out two shows were added to meet demand.

Alden Manamtam, pastor of the Kahala Mall location of C4 Christ Centered Community Church, above California Pizza Kitchen, heads the local production.

2 Shows Added

>> Sept. 12: 9 p.m. at C4 Christ Centered Community Church
>> Sept. 17: 8 p.m. at Kaimuki Christian Church

Tickets of $10 to $15 may be purchased through or at the box office on the days of the show.

“So often we find ourselves inundated with daily busy-ness and task lists that we find it difficult to reflect on the big questions of life — questions such as the meaning of life, the existence of God, and is death the ultimate end of our journey, or is it just the beginning,” said Manamtam, former executive director of the Los Angeles-based Arts, Culture and Entertainment.

“I discovered that this gem of a play — ‘Freud’s Last Session’ — was not just great theater, but it took on these questions in a provocative, entertaining and often funny way. And I just felt moved to share the joy I experienced through this play with others,” Manamtam said.

In a span of 75 minutes, “the play covers so many complex and profound topics that each could have a play dedicated entirely to it — love, sex, suicide, racism, the dynamics of the parental-child relationship, the role of civility in public discourse,” he said.

Inspired by “The Question of God,” the work of Harvard psychiatrist Armand M. Nicholi, the play is set at Freud’s London apartment on the day England enters World War II in September 1939, and a few weeks before the psychoanalyst takes his own life to end the pain of advanced oral cancer.

Freud, 83, invites Lewis, 40, a former atheist who had become a famous Christian novelist, to discuss: “Why a man of your intellect, one who shared my convictions, could suddenly abandon truth and embrace an insidious lie.”

Freud is played by Paul T. Mitri, chairman of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Lewis is portrayed by California actor Donovan Oakleaf. Mark Branner, a UH assistant professor, is director.

One of Manamtam’s favorite parts of the play is a story told by Freud: “The village atheist was an insurance agent. He asked the local pastor if he would make a sick call. The atheist’s family was astonished; he was on his deathbed — they couldn’t believe he had the strength to speak with the pastor, of all people.

“Well, all day the two men quarreled, then all night, until finally at dawn, the weary pastor stumbled from the house. The villager had died, still an atheist. But the pastor was fully insured.”

Excerpts of the dialogue:

On belief in God — Lewis: “… a man doesn’t have to be an imbecile to believe in him. And we feeble-minded who do are not, as you claim, suffering from a pathetic ‘obsessional neurosis.’

Freud: “How can someone of your intelligence see the world in black and white when there are a thousand colors around you?”

On sex — Lewis: “We’ve gone from sex being the subject never spoken of to our being unable to talk about anything else. It’s as if we invented it. … We oversimplify it, turning it into the lie that sex under any circumstances is normal and healthy.”

Freud: “The Bible is a bestiary of sexuality. You selectively quote texts like a priest determined to terrify his congregation! No sex before marriage? It’s not only naive, it’s mindless cruelty. Like sending a young man off to perform his first concerto with an orchestra when the only times he’s ever played his piccolo was alone in his room!”

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