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Shadowlands

Graeme Malcolm as C.S. Lewis
Graeme Malcolm as C.S. Lewis
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Imagine spending your life as an Oxford don, in an ivy tower impervious to woman, lecturing and writing on English literature, and authoring a popular children's adventure series; then, a brash American woman shows up and forces you to reexamine your belief system.

That is what happened to C.S. ("Jack") Lewis (Graeme Malcolm) when, after a long and stimulating correspondence, Joy Davidman (Kathleen McCall) showed up at his doorstep.

During the course of their relationship, Lewis' beliefs, particularly his Christian cosmology, and lifestyle—a quiet, studious bachelor home shared with his brother Warnie (John Hutton)—are severely tested.

Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers any more. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.--C.S. Lewis in William Nicholson's Shadowlands

Having lost his mother at a young age, Lewis found safety in academia, creating marvelous religious metaphors for life's trials, but after Davidman entered his life, what had been conveniently sublimated to the theoretical became uncomfortably real.

(Left to right) John Hutton as Warnie Lewis, Sam Gregory as Christopher Riley, and Michael Santo as Harrington
(L to R) John Hutton as Warnie Lewis,
Sam Gregory as Christopher Riley,
and Michael Santo as Harrington
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Malcolm is masterful, painting a detailed and subtly drawn transformation, in which Lewis opens up to his emotions and suffers another great loss in his life, through which he chooses to affirm both joy and suffering, while stressing the transitory nature of this world. Hutton lends a mannered, caring, and brotherly presence, in contrast to their contentious collegues—Christopher Riley (Sam Gregory), Harrington (Michael Santo), Alan Gregg (Douglas Harmsen), and Dr. Maurice Oakley (John Arp)—with whom they meet for comaraderie and criticism. McCall is wonderfully refreshing, while poking fun at the stodgy English with her Bronx dialect and pointed comments, and well-grounded, when dealing with Davidman's marital and health issues.

The world that seems to us so substantial is no more than the shadowlands. Real life has not begun yet. --C.S. Lewis, in William Nicholson's Shadowlands

Kathleen McCall as Joy Davidman and Charlie Korman as Douglas
Kathleen McCall as Joy Davidman
and Charlie Korman as Douglas
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
What Lewis means by calling this world "shadowlands" is that it is the eternal life of the soul that is the ultimate reality, and not the materialistic life we associate with the body and senses. While Lewis suffused his views with Christian symbolism, at an abstract level they are similar to eastern religious views that posit Reality as unchanging. But following Davidman's painful death, his views are shaken; Lewis then returns from this spiritual limbo to his prior beliefs with a renewed perspective, which helps him provide Davidman's son Douglas (Charlie Korman) with a means of coping that he, Lewis, did not have when his own mother died. Korman does fine work as the eight-year old.

Director Christy Montour-Larson's economic staging is a delight, keeping the focus on sublime moments and subtle shadings.

One of the great challenges faced by any religion based on an anthropomorphic G-d—i.e., one to which human emotions and behaviors are ascribed—is an explanation of why such a being lets bad things happen to good people. For Lewis, it was G-d's way of honing us.

I suggest to you that it is because God loves us that he makes us the gift of suffering. Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world. You see we are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel which hurt us so much are what makes us perfect.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Shadowlands runs through April 27th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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