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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Passage Through Gray Town

Theater Review

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C.S. Lewis is best known for creating the fantasy world of Narnia. However, he also wrote another fantasy of sorts, The Great Divorce, which tells of a man's dream journey between Heaven and Hell (known as "the gray town"), as he observes his fellow travelers grappling with their faith-or lack thereof.

Last weekend Acacia Theatre Company opened an adaptation of The Great Divorce by Jesuit priest George Drance in conjunction with the Magis Theater Company. Problem is, adapting a novel filled with lengthy discussions and observations about faith, the human condition and our own mortality into a stage drama can be a tricky business. While the production's spirit is certainly willing, the execution falls short-and at 75 minutes long (no intermission) it feels like, well, an eternity.

The narrator (Lewis himself) finds himself in "the gray town," listening to people's petty bickering and general unpleasantness. Chancing upon a line of people waiting, he joins in, only to discover later they're waiting for a bus that takes them to Heaven. While there, the narrator observes people in ghostly form try to adapt Heaven to their own needs and demands, rather than the other way around. An artist has no interest in staying if he can't continue painting and be famous back on Earth. An overbearing mother is demanding to see her son-rather than God. When a religious leader learns that his scope of powers will be limited in Heaven, he leaves.

Likely due to the dated 1940s language retained in this adaptation, and all the more complicated by the use of English and Irish accents, actors had varying degrees of success in being understood or heard. As the narrator, Scott Stewart makes the most of the long monologues, providing a steady through-line in a play with some uneven pacing. The other 12 actors play multiple roles in this production directed by Elaine Wyler.

The Great Divorce runs through May 17 in the Todd Wehr Auditorium at Concordia University.

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