A Few Words From Acacia's Shadowlands
Judging from commercial success and ongoing support from establishedl iterary critics, British Author/theologian C.S. Lewis is destined to be one of hundred or so best reemmbered novelists of the 20th century. Having met with considerable success itself, playwright William Nicholson's dramatization of Lewis' love affair with an American poet Joy Gresham may be irrevocably linked with the memory of the author for future generations. This week, Acacia Theatre opens its producion of the romantic drama. Actors Michael Chobanoff and Maureen Dornemann and Director Janet Bouman Peterson talk about hte production, Lewis and Shadowlands:
How have you prepared for playing C.S. Lewis?
Michael Chobanoff: About 15 years ago I read Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” for the first time. It was as if I was reading what I had thought about a relationship with God. There was a feeling that I can only describe as a warm kinship with him. He had a divinely-inspired way of expressing incredibly complex ideas in a way that the average sub-genius can grasp. I found myself talking out loud, gasping. It was truly a “spiritual experience” in every sense. I’ve since reread the book, and my copy is now more self-inked than not with underlines and yellow highlights.
I’ve also read a few of Lewis’ other “theological” books and, of course, “The Chronicles of Narnia” series and “Til We Have Faces.” I loved and devoured them all.
I saw the movie “Shadowlands” years ago in the theater and won’t watch it again until our production has closed.
To learn more about the man himself I’ve been reading “All My Road Before Me,” a journal Lewis wrote before he even became a professor. I wanted to get a feel for where he came from. The book gives you hints, here and there, and a feel for his personality.
Lewis was an amazing genius of a man. I don’t try to be him. I just try to capture the feel of who he was, what he was about. You can’t help be pulled into the story. It is so eloquently and adroitly written.
How are you tackling the challenge of bringing this rather unique relationship to the stage?
Michael Chobanoff (C.S. Lewis): The story, the writing, gives us so much to work with. The hardest part is letting it do its part in bringing the relationship to life.
Lewis and Joy were both unapologetically confident in whom they were, and that was an attraction for both them. Lewis had simply never met his “equal” before and it’s a true awakening when he meets Joy. She is unique, new and completely unexpected. He has a lot of inner conflict because he’s drawn to her on levels that he knows he can’t and shouldn’t be. So, at times, I feel he’s trying to convince himself that he’s not being influenced in that way. But ultimately, what they end up finding is a pure, unblemished “true” love in the most elegant and complete sense of the word.
It’s that push and pull that makes the play full, rich and real, but it is a bit like working through the brambles to get to the reward. Maureen and I trust each other as actors and as friends. We trust our director. And, of course, we trust the work. That helps us take risks to get to where we need to be.
Maureen Dornemann (Joy): Lewis and Joy had an amazing relationship. They rejoiced in just being near each other. One experience I draw on in trying to portray that kind love is something that happened when my daughters were young, about a year old. It happened with both of them. I'd walk into their rooms in the morning and take them out of their cribs and they’d greet me with the biggest, happiest smiles. It was the sheer joy of being alive; pure, unadulterated joy. I see that same sense of pure happiness with Lewis and Joy. I want to capture the purity of the profound love and respect they had for each other.
What can we expect in the way of production elements for the show? Did you have much difficulty tracking down period costumes, props, scenery and such?
Janet Bouman Peterson (Director): The story takes us to many locations and the script calls for not stopping to change sets. So, the set is suggestive and we’re using area staging, a large central structure and lighting to depict various locations. Costuming and props will be true to the era.
There are quite a few different ways to stage a story like this. Subtleties in direction could emphasize Lewis and Davidman's emotional, intellectual or spiritual connection depending on where you decided to take the play. What kind of balance are you looking for between these elements when this production makes it to the stage?
Janet Bouman Peterson (Director): All of those connections are important. It’s the story of the journey of their relationship and their spiritual journeys. Joy first comes to Lewis as a fan. Lewis is initially attracted to Joy's intellect; he enjoys her friendship. Then the emotional connection between them starts to grow, especially as the crisis of her illness develops. We see Lewis learn how to love and allow himself to "feel the pain," rather than retreat. On a spiritual level, they understand each other. Lewis' writings brought Joy to faith. She is incredibly smart and incisive – but in a fun way. She is not intimidated. However, her illness brings about a crisis in Lewis’ faith. Slowly, by show’s end, he's brought to a place of peace.