Review: “Shadowlands” reveals C.S. Lewis at the Guthrie

Guest blog by Courtney Lewis, assistant managing editor at MNMO

William Nicholson’s Shadowlands, playing at the Guthrie Theater through December 21, tells the sad tale of the relationship between author C.S. Lewis and the two great loves of his life: American writer Joy Gresham—and God.

I’m ashamed to admit that I know little of C. S. Lewis outside of the Narnia Chronicles (our shared surname didn’t even pique my interest). The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was a favorite childhood story of mine, but I had always assumed that to know more about the author would be to destroy the fantasy. Instead, I fashioned him a stout magician living in a forest toadstool (perhaps alongside his good friend–and real-life neighbor at Oxford–J. R. R. Tolkien).
The Guthrie’s production, then, and the acclaimed British actor Simon Jones’s characterization of Lewis, happily surprised me. An actor best known for playing Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (he’s said to have been the inspiration for the character, actually), he seems at home in the fantasy world that also absorbed Lewis. (I’m not sure what I expected: A gnome writing about kids traveling through a wardrobe?) Major Warren Lewis, Jack’s older brother, is charming in his simplicity; a man of few words, entrenched in routine. Each day begins the same for the brothers: Warren brings tea and a newspaper into the study where Jack is already at work, pours them each a cup, and reads the news. For the audience (and maybe for Jack, too), Warren’s brevity is comforting. He is loyal and reliable—a rock in Jack’s unstable life.

Jack’s most important relationship is with Joy, played here by Guthrie favorite Charity Jones. Those familiar with Lewis’s life will recall their correspondence and eventual meeting in England (she brought her two sons, David and Douglas, but only Douglas is portrayed in this adaptation, played by the innocent and precious Tucker Garborg). There is a mutual respect between the two writers—Joy goes so far as to say Jack’s letters have been the most important thing in her life—and their friendship even lends itself to marriage, solely to keep Joy in the country, as the couple claims. (Hey, what are friends for?)

Even as their relationship grew, I felt a tension that kept me on the verge of weeping the entire play—up until the quiet, touching ending that left me awash in sloppy tears.

Now playing, through December 21
Guthrie Theater
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis

Stay in Lewis’s world a bit longer with the Children Theatre Company’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, now playing through January 3.

Children’s Theatre Company
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis