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Off Broadway

Shadowlands: A Beautifully Stuffy Lecture on Love and Suffering.

Shadowlands: A Beautifully Stuffy Lecture on Love and Suffering.
Daniel Gerroll, Robin Abramson

Daniel Gerroll, Robin Abramson Photo Jeremy Daniel

As a modern play, I would bet that Shadowlands was considered quite a pleasant and harmless drama back in the day when it first debuted as a television film in 1985. Nothing all that challenging or disturbing, and I’m certain that it was viewed as a well crafted piece of storytelling when it made its stage debut at the Queen’s Theatre in London on 23rd of October, 1989, running for almost a year.  The play, that won an Evening Standard Award for Best Play 1990 and a Tony award in 1991 for Best Actor (Nigel Hawthorne), centered around the real life story of  an acclaimed British writer and his relationship with an American fan, whom he befriends and eventually marries. I do recall seeing the 1993 film, directed by Richard Attenborough starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger (Oscar nominated), but beyond the pretty spot on casting, that’s about all I am able to remember. I knew it had something to do with the struggle with personal pain and grief that comes from a love relationship, but beyond that, I could only recall that it felt quite proper and charming, like a Merchant/Ivory film without the beautiful vistas.

Dan Kremer, Sean Gormley, Daryll Heysham, John C. Vennema

Dan Kremer, Sean Gormley, Daryll Heysham, John C. Vennema. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The current production of William Nicholson’s well crafted play, as directed by Christa Scott-Reed (New World’s Church and State) champions the same solid qualities unabashingly. Brought to Theatre Row’s Acorn stage by the Fellowship for Performing Arts, this play tells the sweet and sad story of C. S. Lewis, (or Jack as his friends prefer to call him) portrayed exceedingly well by Daniel Gerroll (Broadway’s Plenty). We find him sitting comfortably in middle age, happily living the life of a quiet bachelor in Oxford, sharing a home with his loyal and steadfast brother, Major Warnie Lewis (John C. Vennema). He is perfectly content writing and lecturing his life away, until the day, when an American woman interjects herself into the conversation, and all else is in the history books.

Daniel Gerroll, Robin Abramson

Daniel Gerroll, Robin Abramson Photo Jeremy Daniel

We first are introduced to the famed author of the Narnia book series as he gives a lecture on God and the concept of suffering and patience. His life is void of romance, just the way he likes it, and without any of the pain that comes with love. It’s a beautiful real life set-up for what will slowly upend his safe and tranquil life, and it all starts with a request to meet from a bold American writer, Joy Davidman. She is wonderfully embodied by Robin Abramson (Philadelphia Theatre’s Tribes) briskly and confidently portraying the catalyst of change who storms the gates of the stuffy world of British male-dominated academia. She ruffles the feathers of most within his small circle, except for Lewis. For some reason, he is charmed by her, much to the surprise of his brother and Jack’s colleagues, who don’t quite understand her appeal, maybe just as much or more than Jack himself.

Regardless, their intellectual bond and mutual affection grow, slowly and steadily, taking Jack by surprise, right up to the end. She upends his intellectual constructs and fuels his emotional evolution. And only later, when he finds out what love and suffering truly mean, outside of a lecture, Jack is quite the changed man, at least emotionally. He may still be the stuffy British man who shies away from the sun, but he also forgoes self-preservation, forcing himself to rethink love, pain, and faith.
Joy is a breath of sharp fall air in the slightly dusty British halls of Jack’s existence. She is pushy and straightforward and manages to hold onto that part of her persona to the sad and bitter end. I didn’t quite believe in Joy’s pain or her infirmity near the end, but it also didn’t make her less likable. Davidman delivers on the required strength and passion that could melt the ice that surrounds Jack’s heart, and we understand how she is able to help make him a better man. I just wish we also saw some of her own weakness and struggle to a larger extent.
On a very solid and somewhat overly fussy and noisy set, designed by Kelly James Tighe (Cherry Lane’s Nunsense), with lighting by Aaron Spivey (La Mama’s Jukebox Jackie), superbly stuffy period costuming by Michael Bevind (FOA’s The Screwtape Letters), and original music and sound design by John Gromada (Broadway’s The Trip to Bountiful), the historically balanced drama marches forward, sometimes a bit too slowly and properly, but all with very good taste indeed. The cast all do a fantastic stiff-upper-lipped job, especially Vennema (Broadway’s The Royal Family) as Jack’s solid and kind brother. His genuine empathetic soul is on full display throughout, but becomes more pronounced with his hand-holding of Joy’s young son, played sweetly and naturally by Jack McCarthy/Jacob Morrell.
It’s a heart warming moment in a heart warming play about the bravery of stepping into the arena of Love. Knowing full well that pain and suffering comes on the backside. Earlier on, Jack perches that one should endure suffering with patience, but his ideals no longer applied once Joy entered the picture. Jack dives in to the pool of Love and Pain, gracefully and quite properly, like any good solid Brit would do. And we applaud that brave step forward.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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