Shadowlands:: a Review
I recently discovered a little theater near the beloved city in which I used to live. It’s called “Open Window Theater.” You can visit the website here: http://www.openwindowtheatre.org/Open_Window_Theatre/Home.html .
Saturday and Sunday I attended the performances of their current production: “Shadowlands”, directed by Joy Donley. I am a blood-thirsty fan of CS Lewis and theater so I clung to this opportunity to support this production not only with my money but with my time as a volunteer. Decisions of which I can be proud.
While I am no actual critic (that is, it is not a craft of mine, but more of a knack), I thought some in depth thoughts about the play would take care of today’s penance as a blog post.
As I first sat down, I observed how the seats were split by the presence of the stage. The chairs were un-stationary lawn chairs in rows. Very, very comfortable chairs, mark you! The sections of chairs faced the stage in the middle and each other. I wondered how that was going to work. Surely one group of audience members would feel short-changed and the actors would constantly have to switch back and forth so as to not let one side see the backside for too long. It reminded me of those horrid churches where the altar is surrounded by pews and the lector and priest have to constantly circle about to “include everyone.”
Yet, as the play progressed, I was deeply impressed at the blocking. The actors were always angled such that both sections of the audience could see what was important to see; and the actors weren’t straining this way and that. I was blown away at how perfected this was. I thought of the directing it must have took to get it as precise as they did. I sat on both sides, so I know one was not short-changed. In fact, I grew rather fond of the set-up because I felt very close to the stage and it was touching to watch my fellow audience-members’ expressions.
Again, the blocking was well done. It helped the play to flow. There was never a stuffy moment in the action or position of the actors on stage. It complimented the dialogue.
The opening monologue by CS Lewis on the meaning of suffering truly set the mood. It gave the play a focus and when the themes in the monologue are repeated towards the end of the play, they carried all the more meaning. I teared up at the power of his words which truly took flesh because he had given over his life to loving Joy, his wife, as we had seen manifest in the play.
I did find the scenes to end too quickly. It is probably a question of personal taste but it seemed as though there was a pattern of changing a scene, the actors sitting down for a bit of dialogue, and then poof- the scene is quickly over. The one that sticks out the most is when Lewis tells his brother that he is going to marry Joy. It is a funny scene, but the set up was whisked away as soon as it was formed. There was a lot of coming and going, which is probably inevitable in a play which tries to capture the span of a long period of time and the important elements of two people falling in love who come from two different worlds.
The play was full of whit and symbolic images. I was particularly fond of the quiet theme of the little boy Douglas, and the wardrobe. I nearly sobbed when Joy enters into the wardrobe. CS Lewis has created for this century the new code of Catholic symbols, I decided as I sat watching. Where the Ancient Roman Catholics had Apollo, fish, peacocks, and anchors, we have a wardrobe, a lion, and a lamp post.
The acting was top-notch. The actress who played Joy (Katherine Kupiecki), the actor who was Lewis Major (Joel Thingvall), and the actor who played the skeptical Christopher (Joe Hendren) were the ones I most applauded. Their expressions, voices, accents, the way of carrying themselves was done to a T. They made their characters unique and loud without “trying.” They were the most convincing of the bunch.
Lewis was portrayed by Paul Andrew as a loveable English professor, as I am sure he was. I was extremely fond of the delivery of his line, “I am not used to this” as Joy prods him for clarification about his thoughts about her. I also appreciated his behavior in the hotel in Greece. The transformation of his character from a man who likes to talk about ideas to a man who lives out his ideas is powerful. However, his character in this play reminded me of Mole from the 1995 cartoon version of “Wind in the Willows.” My criticism of this is: I always pegged Lewis to be more of a down-to-earth, modern professor. To me Lewis was a man of the Renaissance. Renaissance literature was his thing; his choice can’t help but either say something of who he was or effect who he was or both. The Renaissance was fleshy, extremely symbolic, human, dry whit, to the point, an informed modern outlook [informed by the treasures of Truth from the past] but still modern. This is reflected in CS Lewis’ writings, from Narnia to the Space Trilogies. He does not come across as a Mole in his writings, not this war-veteran Irishman who wrote Screwtape. He might be more of “Ratty” in the 1995 “Wind in the Willows.” Not a light chuckle trapped in the throat too easily dealt, but a good-hearted laugh from the chest given when deserved.
The play has one more weekend left of performances. I strongly recommend it to any and all. Buy your tickets online.