Thursday, March 5, 2015


So, this past Saturday  Janice and I took the light rail (Orca/Link) downtown to the Moore Theatre, where we saw the excellent Beatles Tribute show RAIN last year.

This time we were going for something completely different: a dramatization of C. S. Lewis's least-known novel, THE GREAT DIVORCE (written after his space trilogy and before his Mary-Renault-esque TILL WE HAVE FACES).

As Janice said afterwards, it's not fair to critique the play on the basis of its theological content -- that wd involve reviewing both play and original book together. So let's just note that the play accurately presents Lewis's ideas and arguments as they appear in the original book, often in the same words. To that extent, it's an extremely faithful adaptation.

Just as this same group's* adaptation of THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, which we saw the year before last, was presented as a series of monologues (a good choice), their THE GREAT DIVORCE resolved itself into a sequence of vignettes (again, a good choice on their part). This enabled them to get by with a minimum of cast: it was a three-person show. All three played Lewis himself in the (newly added) opening to the frame-story, wherein he falls asleep in his library, and in the conclusion (as per the book, when he awakens and, here, begins to set down the story at once), and at various points throughout the story for emphasis, sometimes with all three speaking in chorus and sometimes in rapid back-and-forth succession. The rest of the time they usually divided up between one actor playing Lewis (and it kept changing which this was), one playing one of the visiting ghosts, and one playing the heavenly spirit come to offer guidance to that ghost. The ghosts all wore everyday dress (I suppose to help make the connection that they were just like us), the Lewises a suit (far neater than what Lewis himself wd probably have worn) and a dressing gown, and the Spirits a costume that made them look a lot like Liberace (for those whose memories stretch back so far).

The set was minimal, and mainly seemed to serve to emphasis the ghosts' tender feet on the unyielding grass.  Overall the production perhaps emphasized the ingenuity of the three-person cast filling all those roles, switching back and forth as needed so dexterously, over the content of the play itself. It's not their fault that I thought the Spirits came across as remarkably poor presenters of Xian doctrine. Nor could their adaptation overcome my two great objections to the original work: CSL's shabby treatment of George MacDonald by having MacDonald posthumously renounce the cornerstones of his teachings** and CSL's basing his own work on a reaction against a work he confesses to not having been able to understand: Wm Blake's brilliant THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL.

The Short Version: if you like THE GREAT DIVORCE, odds are you'll enjoy this adaptation, which is reasonably faithful, within the constraints of the three-person cast. If you generally enjoy C. S. Lewis's apologetics and haven't read this particular work, I'd recommend it. If you're of two minds about Lewis I'd recommend giving it a try.  If on the other hand his apologetics give you the fan-tods you might as well give this a pass.

--John R.

current task: sorting out mystery novels to go on the out-the-door pile
current reading: an interesting forthcoming book (more about this one later)

*"The Fellowship for Performing Arts"

**shades of Conan Doyle's medium-delivered posthumous conversions of skeptical friends to Spiritualism!

THE WIFE SAYS: Sure, everyone else who gets the fan-tods gets a free pass!


Wurmbrand said...

---CSL's basing his own work on a reaction against a work he confesses to not having been able to understand: Wm Blake's brilliant THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL---

Where does he say that? The impression I always had was that the title was a riff on the Blake work, but that the story was (if indebted to anything) obliged to a couple of science fiction stories, including Donald Wandrei's "Colossus" and "The Man Who Lived Backwards" (whose author escapes me).

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Wurmbrand:

Lewis says this in his Preface to THE GREAT DIVORCE itself, the first two sentences of which read: "Blake wrote the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. If I have written of their Divorce, this is not because I think myself a fit antagonist for so great a genius, nor even because I feel at all sure that I know what he meant."

Wandrei's COLOSSUS I don't know about, but "The Man Who LIved Backwards" [1938] was written by Charles F. Hall [Doug Anderson having discovered both author and title during his researches for TALES BEFORE NARNIA.

BY the way, I really do highly recommend the Blake, which is weird and wonderful yet still one of his most accessible works

--John R.

Wurmbrand said...

Thanks -- I did know those lines by Lewis, just didn't read them the way you do. : )

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Wurmbrand

Well, if folks didn't have different interpretations of what they read, we wdn't have (or need) literary criticism at all.

Thanks again for the query.