Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Shadowlands" A Reading By The Old Courthouse Theatre

"Shadowlands", the William Nicholson play about the relationship between C.S.Lewis and his marraige to American poet Helen Joy Davidman (later Gresham and then Lewis) is a fabled romance in literary circles. Mr. Nicholsons' treatment of, and reading by, The Old Courthouse Theatre, located in Concord, both do the subject justice.

Briefly, the story is of C.S. Lewis, celebrated author, and the conflict between his intellect and his heart. After a lengthy correspondence he meets Mrs. Gresham in England in the early 1950's. She is a noted poet, having shared the 1938 Russell Loines Memorial Prize with Robert Frost. The two immediatley become quite attached to one another intellectually. He accepts her as an equal, and though they differ on some levels, they seem to recognize in one another a capacity that they have found lacking in others. They are kindred spirits.

She returns to America and divorces her husband, writer David Gresham, and then returns to England with her two sons, David and Douglas. Not wishing to return to America she and C.S.Lewis enter into a civil "marraige of convenience" in order to facilitate her remaining in England. They are still "intellectual" friends at this point. Later, when she is diagnosed with cancer, he marries her again, in the Church of England, despite her previous divorce. The ceremony was performed at her hospital bedside on March 21, 1956 by Mr. Lewis' freind Reverend Peter Bride. By 1960 she would pass away. It is worth noting that today would be their anniversary.

When Mr. Lewis first expounds on Gods pain being a sign of His love for us, he does not know Mrs. Gresham, and so may not have the necessary experience to draw this conclusion. Later on, after her death, he does question his own convictions, but much to his credit endures, and his faith in God ramains intact.

The opening of the play and the portrayal of C.S. Lewis delivering a lecture on the eternal question of "Why Does God Let Man Suffer", is superb. Will Baysinger delivers a terrific performance throughout the entire play- but this opening is his shining moment. In a delivery as potent as anything ever done by Ronald Coleman, he sets the pace for the rest of the play as he explores this still relevant question.

Kim Baysinger plays Joy and is so moved by her role, that near the end she is visibly weeping as she really "feels" the part. This is just a reading - but the audience can actually see and feel her pain. A very moving performance.

Playing the part of C.S. Lewis' brother Warnie was Tommy Warlick. His reading was "spot on" to the character he portrayed. He was, at times, acting with his hands. His interplay with Mr. Baysinger, seated next to him the entire time, gave both roles the intimacy they need and deserve.

Tim Thomas played Riley, a freind and confidante of the group of bachelors who make up Mr. Lewis' all male group of freinds prior to the arrival of Mrs. Gresham. He lends a nuanced and balanced aspect to the group, leaving you wishing he had more lines.

Tyler Warlick played the part of Mrs. Greshams' son Douglas (who wrote the original book, "Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and CS Lewis" in 1988, and upon which this play is based). Young Mr. Warlick, along with his parents, who are also in the play, is remarkable in his timing and inflection, giving real dimension to such a small role. His father, as stated, plays Warnie and his mother, Katie Warlick, plays the role of the Registrar and Nurse at the hospital.

The narration, by Jonathan Ewart, was light and gave the audience just what it needed to let the play take over and serve as the bridge you cross on the journey back to England in the 1950's.

The Direction, also by Mr. Ewart, was equally understated, and enabled the play to do the talking. The characters are finely developed and the whole thing rolled along very smoothly. As in the last "reading" I attended, the stools simply disappeared and I found myself sitting in an English drawing room, fireplace, armchair and all.

This was a wonderful "reading" of a very beautifully written play. It tackles so much more than just the relationship between Mr. Lewis and Mrs. Gresham. It explores the self doubts and pain associated with ones own thoughts. Watch this space for information on Old Courthouse Theatres' next production. You really don't want to miss it.

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