Saturday, April 20, 2013

REVIEW: "Shadowlands" Cast Walks Through the Shadow of Death and Suffering Without Fear

Shadowlands, a drama about Narnia author C.S. Lewis by William Nicholson and directed by Rachel Keen will be playing through May 4 at Magenta Theater, located at 606 Main St., Vancouver, Wash.  

The Man Behind Narnia

Clive (Jack) Staples Lewis was a well-respected writer and teacher from England's Oxford University. Much of the subject matter of his books and lectures concern Man’s relationship with God. But his most famous books were the bestselling Narnia collection, many of which have been adapted for film. In fact, he was, also, good friends with J.R.R. Tolkien, writer of the Lord of the Rings books, also filmed. [Shadowlands, too, was made into a movie starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger and Edward Hardwick.]

The story takes place in 1950s Oxford, his home for most of his life. Jack (played by Philip Giesy) and his older brother, Warnie (Bob Lawson), were confirmed bachelors and roomed together. Jack was constantly exploring the relationship between God and Man, questioning why, if there was a God, he would allow so much suffering in the world.

Lewis also had little to do with relationships, in the loving sense, with women. Both these feelings reflected back to losing his mother to cancer at an early age, which was painful for him. He felt the best way to deal with that scenario was to not hold anyone too close, therefore, avoiding the pain when death came calling. That is, until a fan from America, Joy (Shaye Eller), perked his interest into reopening intimate feeling for another.

Eventually they form a warm friendship, and finally love, and they marry. But suffering seems to be a permanent part of Lewis’s life, as cancer, once again, raises its ugly head and invades Joy’s body and bones. A remission sets in, but it is only a short reprieve for the inevitable. The man sworn to keep Love at a distance, to avoid the pain of loss must, once again, deal with it. “Pain is God’s megaphone to wake a deaf world,” he says.

The Actors Behind the Play

Although the play deals with a grim subject matter, it never wallows in the maudlin. This is due, in a large part, to the interpretation of the story by the director, Rachel Keen, and her talented cast. Keen also has the unenviable task of keeping the play flowing, though it takes place over a few years and in many different locations. In both these areas, she does a superior job with quick set changes, a cast playing multiple roles, and finding humor wherever she can.

Publicity Photo provided.
And the actors are universally good. The actors in the key roles of the two Lewis brothers and Joy are well-suited for their roles. Giesy underplays Jack, adding to the mystery of this complicated man. He is not overt in showing his emotions but you see the inner turmoil of this conflicted individual. He is especially effective in his monologues/lectures where he is totally believable and convincing. So convincing, that one audience member was nodding her head and whispering agreements as he was speaking these words.

Lawson also played Warnie in a low-key manner and the loving connection between the two brothers was evident. When they dialogued with each other, there was an air of authenticity and a sense of real conversation between the two. And Eller, as Joy, is impressive on the stage. Having last reviewed her as the detective in Magenta's Something to Hide, she, once again, shines. It is a pleasure to watch her react and enact, giving the impression this is all being done and said for the first time, as it should be.

As to the supporting roles: Josiah Keen as Joy’s son, Douglas, has some nice moments. Mike Nettleton as Christopher, Jack's atheist friend, gives a good account of himself as the bombastic member of the group. Bob Madsen (a local theater veteran) as Harry, the preacher who offers Jack religious homilies, another aspect of Jack’s relationships with friends, also does quite well.

This is a well-written show and should be seen for some very important questions it raises about Love, God and Man’s purpose in Life. Heady questions with no easy answers. It is a story that should create dialogue long after one’s viewing. According to Lewis, although Man has often been rebuked and condemned by God, He has never regarded us with contempt…a complicated relationship, to say the least. 

For further information and tickets, check Magenta's website.

I recommend this show. If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Dennis Sparks, Guest Reviewer

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