REVIEW: Shadowlands (Provision Theater)

  
  

More isn’t more in C.S Lewis relationship drama

        
        

Susan Moniz and Brad Armacost in 'Shadowlands', now playing at Provision Theater.

  
Provision Theater presents
  
Shadowlands
  
Written by William Nicholson
Directed by
Tim Gregory
at
Provision Theater, 1001 W. Roosevelt (map)
thru March 20  |  tickets: $25-$28  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan E. Jakes

C.S Lewis had a flair for turning complex theological and philosophical ideas into digestible, entertaining narratives. He was a profoundly influential man with a distinct voice and a fascinating life. In Shadowlands, Provision Theater works with a rich subject with a compelling story. The creative team behind this bio-drama obviously has a fondness for the British author. What they could really use are some of his writing tricks.

William Nicholson’s script desperately needs editing. Heavy-handed, clunky, and overlong at two and a half hours, the text undercuts its own story with linear, tedious construction, and scattershot attention to dramatic build. Exposition is not the same as action, and Shadowlands relies mostly on characters standing around telling each other what’s happening to relate the plot.

Moments that play out theatrically are rare, but enlightening. On their tropical honeymoon, Joy teaches her husband to sit and bask in the sunlight. So far, we’d only seen the academic Lewis in authoritative formal wear in stuffy, drab English surroundings. Sprawled comfortably on a bench, Joy teaches him patiently, informing him that presence is a virtue without speaking a direct word about it. When he gets it, we see the tension release from his shoulders and the appreciative grin of realization. His wife is good to him, and without her, even a renowned intellectual like him would never have enjoyed this beautiful, divinely simple pleasure.

In that scene, Nicholson creates a thin-sliced moment of life–we understand why Lewis fell in love with Joy Gresham and what he’ll miss when she passes, all from a few sentences about the sun. Good theatrical scene work works as metaphor.

The rest, however, is so literal. Every key point of Lewis and Gresham’s relationship–letters, first meeting, introduction to friends, divorce, secret wedding, first bout with illness, public wedding, honeymoon, second bout with illness, death, grief–is played out or discussed at length. It’s one thing to be respectful with a narrative, but it’s another to champion reality over storytelling. Creative license is not a tool for the selfish, but the thoughtful. Refining a real-life story into fiction brings out a chosen element of its truth. Instead of highlighting or heightening aspects of the protagonists’ relationship, Nicholson and Director Tim Gregory jam in as much as they can, progressively devaluing the scenes as they pile more and more on the stage.

Substance needs style in order to move audiences. In Act I, while visiting Lewis abroad, after learning of her first husband’s affair, Gresham informs Lewis she is leaving back for America. He’s hurt. The curtain closes. A few moments later, it opens. She’s back and Lewis is surprised. How are we supposed to care about her return if we never had time to miss her to begin with?

Working with limited dramatic resources, the actors give remarkable performances. Brad Armacost reprises his role of the title character from Provision’s earlier C. S. Lewis Onstage. He’s lovable, thought-provoking, and a master of his language. He’s easily believable as the distinguished theologian. Susan Moniz (Gresham) is assertive, joyful, funny and extraverted.

(Some consideration: Friday night was only the second preview, after the final dress rehearsal and first performance were canceled due to the severe weather. The next few performances will likely clean up any tiny technical issues and tighten up the transitions, though again, the main culprit is textual, not performance-based)

Shadowlands’ respect for its material is admirable, but as C. S. Lewis taught us, so is imagination. Without it, no dedication to truth will ring as poignant.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

 

Wednesday Wordplay: Eat before shopping

Motivational Quotes

Eat before shopping. If you go to the store hungry, you are likely to make unnecessary purchases.
            — American Heart Association Cookbook

I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention – invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble.
            — Agatha Christie, An Autobiography, 1977

My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.
            — Bette Davis, The Lonely Life, 1962

Often the best way to overcome desire is to satisfy it.
            — W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge, 1943

The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.
            — Heda Bejar

Whatever you are by nature, keep to it; never desert your line of talent. Be what nature intended you for and you will succeed.
            — Sydney Smith

Assumptions are the termites of relationships.
            — Henry Winkler

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
            — Louisa May Alcott

Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.
            — Denis Diderot

To be brave is to love someone unconditionally, without expecting anything in return. To just give. That takes courage, because we don’t want to fall on our faces or leave ourselves open to hurt.
            — Madonna, O Magazine, January 2004

Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.
            — C. S. Lewis

 

Toponyms

 

Toponym – a word derived from a place or location.

Whether it’s when we drink champagne (from Champagne, France), commit a solecism (after Soloi, an Athenian colony in Cilicia), or when we meet our Waterloo (Waterloo, Belgium), we are (perhaps unknowingly) alluding to a distant land and its history. Here are a few examples:

 

  shanghai
 

MEANING:

verb tr.: To recruit someone forcibly or by fraud into doing something.

ETYMOLOGY:

After Shanghai, a major seaport in east China. The term derives from the former practice (mid-1800s to early 1900) of luring men, by the use of drugs, liquor, or violence into serving on US ships destined for East Asia. People who recruited sailors in this manner were called crimps. The practice ended with The Seamen’s Act of 1915 that made crimping a federal crime.

USAGE:

"I know that no one shanghais people into joining the police or becoming a medic, but it does us no harm to remind ourselves from time to time how off-the-scale gnarly these jobs are."
Caitlin Moran; Buttocks on the Skirting Board?; The Times (London, UK); Jan 25, 2010.

   
  Munich
 

MEANING:

noun: A shortsighted or dishonorable appeasement.

ETYMOLOGY:

After Munich, Germany, the site of a pact signed by Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany on Sep 29, 1938 that permitted annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland by Nazi Germany. WWII began a year later; Sudetenland was restored to Czechoslovakia after the war.

USAGE:

"Neoconservatives, writes Jacob Heilbrunn, ‘see new Munichs everywhere and anywhere’."
Andrew J. Bacevich; The Neocondition; Los Angeles Times; Jan 20, 2008.

 

NOTE:   exonym and endonym

The name “Munich”" is an exonym (a name used by outsiders). The local name (endonym) for Munich is München, derived from Mönch (monk) as the city was founded by Benedictine monks in 1158.


 

NEXT UP: The art of “catching up” in traffic

 

Catching Up

Caleb Crain watches the traffic go by:

On the streets of Park Slope, the most dangerous driving seems to occur when drivers are in the throes of the illusion that they are "catching up." If a driver feels that a safe and pleasant speed on a residential street is 15 miles an hour, but an obstacle (such as a double-parked delivery van) temporarily forces the driver to slow down or even stop, he often responds, once he has passed the obstacle, by "catching up." That is, he suddenly accelerates to thirty miles an hour, and holds that speed for half a block or more. What he is "catching up" to is where he thinks his car would be if he hadn’t been forced to slow down. It wasn’t his choice to slow down; it was (and I am rankly indulging here in a fantasy of driver’s psychology, which isn’t such a stretch for me because I, too, drive) somehow unfair that he had to slow down. By revving the engine, he expresses his anger at this injustice and recovers for himself the timespace that the universe, in the form of a double-parked delivery van, had tried to take from him.

 

bootyism

Bootyism is a sexy religion often confused with Budhism.

I know more about Bootyism than I do about Catholicism!

National tour announced for “The Screwtape Letters”

screwtapeletters1 The Fellowship for the Performing Arts just announced that their critically acclaimed production, The Screwtape Letters (website), starring Max McLean, will embark on a national tour this fall. Future appearances include The Lesher Center for the Arts (October 2nd and 3rd), The Herberger Theater Center (October 30th and November 1st) Brown Theatre (November 6th), Coral Springs Center for the Arts (November 14th and 15th), Tivoli Auditorium (November 21st and 22nd) and Lansburgh Theatre, (December 16th through January 3rd). screwtapeletters12

Based on the C.S. Lewis book by the same name, the highly-acclaimed play has previously enjoyed sold-out runs and rave reviews in Chicago (at the Mercury Theater), New York, and Washington, D.C.

Read more after the jump, including a synopsis of the play and review excerpts.

 

Continue reading

"The Screwtape Letters" to celebrate C.S. Lewis’ 110th Birthday

screwtapeletters The Screwtape Letters, the hit drama based on C.S. Lewis class novel of the same name, now playing at the Mercury Theater, will host a birthday celebration in honor of Lewis’s 110th birthday on Thursday, December 4th.  Following the 8pm performance, a panel of leading C.S. Lewis experts will discuss his influence as on of the most provocative theologians of all time.  Following the talk, audience members (and that could be you!) will be invited to enjoy birthday cake and coffee provided by Cullen’s Bar and Grill.  Yum!