01 Apr Shadowlands Review
The words of C.S. Lewis set out a tone of perseverance and patience very early in the Vintage Theatre company’s production of “Shadowlands.”
Human suffering is a “megaphone to rouse a deaf world,” “God loves us, so he gives us the gift of suffering,” the British author and Christian theologian declares. What’s more, because mortal existence is merely a prequel to another world, “Real life has not begun yet.” We live in an unreal realm, shadow lands designed as a test for a greater purpose.
These powerful words come via actor Verl Hite, who plays the demanding role of C.S. Lewis in this charming Vintage production. It’s clear from Hite’s first monologue that’s he’s up to the considerable challenge of a lead role in a demanding biographical drama.As the play progresses past the first lines on the nature of faith (presumably delivered by Lewis to an unseen class at Oxford), Hite remains the anchor in a show that suffers from some uneven moments. William Nicholson’s drama takes place in the 1950s and tracks the relationship between Lewis and Joy Davidman, an American poet played by Stephanie Schmidt. What starts as letters between an author and a fan blooms into romantic love and marriage.
The crux of the drama here is a challenge to convictions. When Davidman is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Lewis’ theories about human suffering begin to unravel. As Lewis, Hite makes those theoretical struggles feel immediate and epic. His delivery is nuanced and sensitive, his approach to Lewis’ worldview is studied and exact.
That delivery carries the drama through its slower moments. There’s a lot of dialogue in this drama, and some of the actors’ English accents are stronger than others. Any solid sense of time and place is elusive.
Still, directors Craig Bond and Lorraine Scott have included charming touches to carry the central conflict of the show. Tobias Harding’s set of massive bookshelves hints at Lewis’ removed life in academia before he finds love. Wade Livingston’s performance as Lewis’ brother Warnie is a highlight, and Schmidt offers some touching moments as Davidman. All of these elements are secondary compared to Hite’s delivery as a philosopher forced to wrestle with the unanswerable questions and conflicts of the human heart.