The author C. S. Lewis seems, to me, a logical subject for a one-man show. But he’s a name that’s slipped from public view. Narnia-philes remember him, of course, but except for Shadowlands, the 1993 film with Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and Debra Winger as the American woman he married, he’s no longer in the general American awareness.
That said, it’s interesting that the short run of An Evening with C.S. Lewis at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza has been so popular that an extra performance was added. Lucky are the people who get to see it, at least if they enjoy literature and British humor, subsection “dry” rather than subsection “Pythonesque”.
David Payne wrote and performs this one-man show. The story behind it is interesting. With no acting experience, Payne auditioned for Lewis in the stage version of Shadowlands at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville in 1996. He got the role, one thing led to another and yet another...and we have this result.
It’s a charming evening, in a very non-cloying way, tweedy rather than flowery, with the now-widowed Lewis greeting a group of visiting Americans in his home in what must be the early Sixties. One is, in effect, having a visit with a fine raconteur. Payne’s portrayal has the minor deficiency of a little too much mugging with his eyebrows early in the first act, but that quickly disappeared, letting the audience settle into the rhythm of the stories and the well-delivered punchlines. He kicks things off with an explanation of why he refused to answer to his given names, Clive Staples, as a little boy, and insisted on being addressed as Jacksy, eventually shortened to Jack. That’s what his friends and acquaintances called him for the rest of his life. (His brother, who shared his home for many years, was Warrie, which was short for his actual name, Warren.)
There’s a certain amount of discussion of his falling away from Christianity and then again becoming a believer, much of which is attributed to the influence of his friend at Oxford, J.R.R. Tolkien, and a brief mention of his writing on it. He insists he was not an apologist, a word which does not mean that he apologized for believing, but actually defended and explained the theology. Still, he’s often described that way today. The story of his relationship with Joy Davidson, the American woman whom he married twice (civil, followed by a religious ceremony), is much of the second act, and it’s been long enough since the film that most of us have forgotten much of it.
He survived his wife by about three years, dying on November 22, 1963, his death – and that of another noted author Aldous Huxley – overshadowed by the Kennedy assassination, concurrent events that inspired yet another book.
It’s all very well put together, and quite satisfying. A few tickets are left; if this sounds like your sort of thing, move with alacrity.
An Evening with C.S. Lewis
through May 20
Playhouse @ Westport Plaza