William Nicholson's Tony-nominated stage adaptation of his award-winning BBC teleplay relates the story of shy Oxford don and children's author C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Gresham. Shadowlands shows how love, and the risk of loss, transformed this great man's relationships, even with God.
Starring (in alphabetical order):
Arthur Hanket as Alan Gregg, Doctor, Registrar Harriet Harris as Joy Gresham Nicholas Hormann as Harry Harrington Martin Jarvis as C.S. Lewis Christopher Neame as Christopher Riley, Priest Kenneth Schmidt as Douglas W. Morgan Sheppard as Major Warnie Lewis
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It being why this play gets such great reviews. It's not bad, but among the LATheatreworks productions, it's far from my favorite.
CS Lewis, after being the author of Narnia, is best known for his Christian apologetics. Specifically, he's known as "the apostle to the skpetics" because his work reached out directly to modern skeptical audiences. Real religious scholars though, it's my understanding, tend to dismiss Lewis' religious writings as unoriginal and dull.
As a skeptic who's read a few of Lewis' shorter pieces on Christianity and generally found them, well, unoriginal and dull, but who has skeptic friends who have found Lewis' works absolutely captivating, I was hoping this play might finally explain to me what it is others see in the guy. Well, not so much.
I tend to think the appeal of Lewis is that he delivers the same old banal answers in a high-falutin English accent (and, in print, tone), which makes people feel safe and smart endorsing ideas they'd be embarrassed accepting if they came out of the mouth of a Southern born-again preacher. This play did not shake that conviction. At it's core, it's a pretty standard romance between Lewis and an American woman, Joy, who begins corresponding with him about his religious writing, and then visits England to meet him. There's a forbidden-love angle coming out of the fact that she's divorced, and so his religious beliefs at first preclude him from courting her despite their deep attraction; and a doomed-love angle coming out of her eventual battle with cancer.
The appeal, I think, is that here's this deeply religious man, who must overcome his religious convictions to be with the woman he loves and connected with first over religion. We're supposed to be moved by a deep personal struggle to overcome, even if it's actually just overcoming self-imposed limitations which, by virtue of their being overcome, are thereby rendered somewhat meaningless since they were self-imposed in the first place. The play considers the connection between religion and romantic love, but frankly doesn't consider it very deeply. The whole why-does-god-allow-suffering-in-the-world question is something of a leitmotif, but unless you're swayed by Lewis' argument that we would not be worthy of god's love if not for our struggles with grief, it doesn't really lead anywhere.
But hey, clearly some people are deeply touched by this play, as by Lewis' writings. You might be one of them. But I feel like someone needs to be the apostle to the bored, and why not me: if the story of CS Lewis leaves you unmoved, you're not alone. And anyway, don't despair: there's always the Narnia books to entertain you.