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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Shadow of Death

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Countless love affairs have been cut short by death, but when it happens to someone famous, the tragedy is bound to capture the public’s imagination. In his successful drama Shadowlands, William Nicholson details the doomed romance between author C.S. Lewis and poet Joy Davidman. Acacia Theatre, operating from the campus of ConcordiaUniversity, presents its production of the play this week.

  Shadowlands was originally adapted for television, and its rapidly shifting settings could tax any small theater company. As a result, director Janet Bouman Peterson uses a large central structure to suggest many different locations, and relies on lighting, blocking and the sheer force of drama to carry the show from one scene to the next.

  After creating the Narnia series, C.S. Lewis turned into a towering figure in popular fantasy literature and Christian theology. Forty-five years after his death, he’s still selling roughly a million books per year. It’s tough for any actor to fill the shoes of a legend, but Acacia leading man Michael Chobanoff has shown considerable talent in a number of local productions. Chobanoff, who has read many of Lewis’ fiction and nonfiction works, should have what it takes to satisfy fans of the author.

  “Lewis was an amazing genius of a man,” Chobanoff says. “I don’t try to be him.I just try to capture the feel of who he was, what he was about.”

  Chobanoff is currently studying All My Road Before Me, an early journal by Lewis. “I wanted to get a feel for where he came from,” Chobanoff says. “The book gives you hints, here and there, and a feel for his personality.”

  Davidman, Lewis’ complex love interest, provides an equally daunting challenge. Maureen Dornemann is set to play Davidman, the American poet who had two sons from a previous marriage. Her life with Lewis was cut short by bone cancer in 1960. Debra Winger received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Davidman in the film version in 1993. While Dornemann may not have Winger’s cachet, she’s had a string of recent performances that have proven her to be up to the challenge. Most recently, Dornemann played an unnervingly engaging nun in Boulevard Theatre’s Catholic School Girls.

  For Shadowlands, she’s focusing on the relationship between Lewis and Davidman.

  “Lewis and Joy had an amazing relationship,” she says. “They rejoiced in just being near each other.”

  Acacia’s Shadowlands closes May 18.