Date 6 - 28 May 2005 Venue Pacific Theatre

Reviewer: John Jane


 

 

 

 


Katharine Venour
Katharine Venour as Joy Davidman Gresham

Shadowlands is the unlikely title of the play that chronicles an even more unlikely romance between an emotionally limited, middle-aged academic and an American admirer who travels from New York to Oxford for the chance to meet him.

Both Ron Reed as C. S. ("Jack") Lewis and Katharine Venour as Joy Davidman Gresham are wonderfully evocative of the spirit and emotion of this unusual coupling. Venour, in particular, provides not only the spark and wit Gresham reputedly possesses but also the charm and warmth she likely did not.

I have never seen the film version of Shadowlands that featured Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins in the principal roles, but I’ll bet Ron Reed has. He seemed to adopt the same clipped inflections that are the Welsh actor’s trademark.

Lewis was a man with deep Christian conviction, as clearly evidenced by his fictional writing for children. And so the play begins with Lewis addressing a group of fellow scholars with his secular commentary on God's way of strengthening us through tribulation. We learn, however, that these platitudes are based on theory rather than personal experience: As a wealthy bachelor, Lewis suffered few tribulations throughout his life.



 

 

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By the time Joy Gresham bounds onto the scene, Lewis is already something of a media celebrity and altogether set in his ways. While he is immediately drawn to her, it is she who recognizes the potential for a meaningful ,albeit platonic, relationship. Even after agreeing to a marriage of convenience in order that Joy might remain in England, their liaison continues to be non-physical.

It is only when Joy becomes ill, and no longer a sexual threat that he exhibits visible affection and displays his genuine compassion towards her struggle.

Perhaps for casting economy, Joy's two actual sons, David and Douglas, are merged into one (Douglas) and Lewis's stormy friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien of Hobbit fame is ignored, presumably for the same reason.

Director Morris Ertman and the talented cast manage to pull what humor there is from the play, preventing it from becoming excessively heavy. There is a little too much awkward silence in the early stages of Jack's and Joy’s relationship that occasionally threatens to drag the otherwise even pace.

While Shadowlands has merits as a theatre piece, it can hardly be considered an accurate biographical account of Lewis's relationship with Joy Gresham.

Perhaps a final irony is that Clive Staples (Jack) Lewis’s death was, much like his life, overshadowed by more dramatic events. He died on 22 November 1963, the same day Kennedy was assassinated. He will be remembered, however, by his readers who have continued to enjoy his remarkable stories.

2005 John Jane

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