C. S. Lewis’s Shadowlands produced by the Fellowship for Performing Arts is well acted, brilliantly designed and heartbreaking. This unlikely and true love story of renowned British novelist (best known for prolific writer of The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters and my favorite Hinds Feet on High Places), poet, lecturer, Oxford scholar and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis (Daniel Gerroll) and Joy Davidman (Robin Abramson, in her New York debut), a Jewish New Yorker, poet, former Communist and Christian convert is slowly revealed. We start at Oxford as C.S. Lewis, know to his friends as Jack, is a man’s man. A devote bachelor set in his ways, he and his Oxford cronies haven’t a clue when it comes to women. Jack lives with his stuffy, yet sweet brother Warnie (John C. Vennema) and is more comfortable chatting to God. Jack and Joy start of as pen pals, when Joy announces she is traveling to Oxford Jack shyly looks forward to meeting her as his brother is less than joyous. During the course of this visit Joy learns her marriage is failing. Joy goes back to America, but pulls up roots and moves to Oxford with her son (Jack McCarthy). We follow along as the two become unlikely friends, then marry to keep Joy in England but then Joy is struck down with a terminal illness. It is in that moment of possible loss, that joy is truly found. The two marry and find life in the shadowlands.
Daniel Gerroll as Lewis, is a wonderful mix of reserved Brit with layering of warmth, that is waiting to be unearthed. His journey is heartfelt and layered. Robin Abramson as Davidman is brash and we can understand why the Brits and Warnie do not like her at first, but like Warnie she worms her way into our hearts. John C. Vennema as Warnie brings a quiet restraint and is quite wonderful. Also a lovely performance by Sean Gormley as the egotistical Christopher Riley.
Director Christa Scott-Reed keeps this lengthly script moving and brings a tenderness to this piece.
I especially loved the set by set Kelly James Tighe, which is impressive on such a limited budget.
William Nicholson script plods, but is touching and relevant.
I missed the 1989, version starring Nigel Hawthorne as Lewis or the 1993 feature film with Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and Debra Winger as Davidman. We may live in the shadowlands, but it is always nice to be reminded that they do not have to be. The opening line is “Good evening. The subject of my talk tonight is love, pain, and suffering,” with the question of the night being “Where is God when we suffer?” I am more a footprint in the sand person myself, so the answer was he was there all along.
Shadowlands: Theater Row – Acorn Theater, 410 W. 42nd St. until Jan. 7th.