Players of Vancouver
by William Nicholson
Directed by Joan Bryans
April 2nd - 25th, 1999 Jericho Arts Centre
by Bud McNeely
Clives Staples Lewis, known as Jack, was born in 1898 in Belfast, North Ireland. Jack and his brother Warnie, three years his senior were raised in the Church of Ireland. They inherited a great love of books and ideas from their parents. Jack lived a sheltered life until his mother suffered and died from cancer when he was only nine. His mother's tragic death profoundly influenced his life and writings. God is said to have become a vague, cruel abstraction to Jack, convincingly played by Jeffrey Smyth, during his intellectual and spiritual pursuits, and director Joan Bryans has orchestrated a fine lineup of characters into a play that held my serious consideration throughout this outstanding amateur theatre production.
Jack's love interest, Joy Davidman played by Darlene Arsenault comes off very well. Arsenalt's appointed New York accent details joy authentically and lends a refreshing alternate melody to the staid old British accents of Oxford University's intelligentsia circa 1955.
Joy's 8-year old son Douglas (John Poliquin) lives a life that shadows Jack's tragic life all over again. I was quite impressed by 12 year old Poliquin's grasp of the character Douglas, the little boy with the blues "who ain't seen nothin' yet."
Derek C. Carr does a wonderful job being Warnie, Jack's older brother. He is an old soldier, "Major", as Harrington (Dan Webber) calls him. Harrington is both shunned and sought by Jack because he is an experienced married man, since Jack and his brother have been hard core bachelors all of their lives. I've heard that the English (and their cousins from Ireland) are the closest family people on the planet.
There is a kindness shared between the two old brothers that is outstanding. When Jack looks to be on the threshold of marriage and a new life with a wife and stepson, his older brother Warnie is assured that he is welcome to live with the new family unit just as he lived before. No hype, no gripe.
The show opens in 1955 at Oxford University in England and stays there for the whole 2 hours. With the old brothers set up in their drafty old apartment of some 30 years, and appoined with the trappings of academia, the stage is set to introduce New Yorker Joy Davidman who has travelled with her son David to meet her hero, author C.S. Lewis (Jack). Jack is 57 years old and Joy is 40.
Just before Joy and David's arrival, Jack is talking with the boys, so to speak, about this American woman with whom he has been corresponding from her home in New York for some time. After some banter about men and women, who is smarter and who is sweeter, and the possible interchangeability thereof, Joy and her son arrive for tea.
Now the aging bachelor has a young 40 year old practically on a platter, but he's not hungry enough for love, a wife, and a young son just yet. This is further complicated by the fact that Joy is married to a loser back in New York who conveniently decides to write a "Dear Joy" letter to her while she's in England. The obvious window of nuptial bliss that's been opened up to Jack is still jammed with a rusty old bug screen, because now he has the moral dilemma of a woman who has been married before. After all, in the eyes of God, folks are married forever, no matter what; at least, that's the belief that Jack subscribes to.
Joy returns to New York to deal with some loose ends, and a divorce. On their return to England, Jack agrees to brush his morality aside with a simple "unofficial" marriage of convenience to Joy, more so to help her become a resident of England. It all looks pretty cold by now, until you're taken even deeper into the plot when Joy twists her leg painfully, real pain, and a diganosis of bone cancer ensues, as familiar pain and torment return to Jack's life once more.
What does it take to make one see! To see what he really needs in life. Sometimes the threat of death is the most powerful motivating factor that leads to enlightenment.