Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shadowlands by William Nicholson, Trinity Street Players, November 5 - 21

Shadowlands Trinity Street Players

I am a bookish sort of person -- not fiercely literary, but more inclined to take my reference points from a printed page than from a screen. I was aware of C.S. Lewis because my daughter and son had absorbed the Narnia books and because back in my own school days I had wrestled a bit with the Screwtape letters, but I had not much more knowledge of him than that. When this piece came along, I was vaguely bothered by the mentions of the 1993 film that I had never seen. Our years of living abroad had hindered the acquisition of many of the video memories floating in the national consciousness, including those of Richard Attenborough's cinematic version with Anthony Hopkins in the central role.

So Karen and I were completely vulnerable to this powerful, calculated piece about the pottering Cambridge don serenely lost in his books, gab-fests with academic fellows, and his own imaginings. Jose Schenkner as C.S. Lewis vividly creates that late middle-aged bachelor, thoughtful and contained, and brings us into his crisis of love and religion as if we were members of the Inklings, the tweedy bunch that met every week to grumble, gossip and discuss.

José Shenkner as C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands

Director David McCullars makes sure that we know the story that we're getting into, even those of us not already set up by the film. The program outlines the facts in a page of discursive biography, and on the back page McCullars muses about his exposure to Lewis, both to the works and to the man's history. Shadowlands situates us in the shabbily genteel world of Lewis, the inveterate bachelor who shared a house with his brother Warnie, then brings on board Linda Miller Raff as Joy Gresham, the American woman estranged from her own novelist husband and in search of some guiding insight above and beyond those offered by Lewis in his books. As Nicholson tells the story, Gresham eventually became the friend and force who reconnected Lewis to his own emotional life.

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