Playwright: Tom Key
At: Provision Theatre at the Royal George, 1641 N. Halsted
Phone: 312-988-9000; $18-$21
Runs through: Dec. 23
Our premise is a visit with a renowned author. Our dramatic question centers on a letter he is curiously reluctant to write. And our subject is the Oxford professor known to some as a writer of stories for children—specifically, The Narnia Chronicles—and to others, as a Swiftian satirist, his audacity extending to speaking in the voice of The Devil himself. Some regard him as a proponent of a sensual pantheism, along with Wordsworth and Hopkins. Some dismiss him as a defender of that Old-Time Religion ( Church of England, that is ) . And a few even find hints of romantic temperament in his marriage at the age of 58 to American poet Joy Gresham.
What is indisputable is that Clive Staples Lewis—'C.S. Lewis' to his readers and 'Jack' to his intimates—took to heart his tutor's admonition to shun empty words and frivolous pronouncements, instead applying intellectual inquiry to the most casual utterances. The result is a wealth of insightful, thought-provoking observations on a variety of topics. Whether pitying the angels for the sensory transcendence that prevents them enjoying a glass of whisky or dissing T.S. Eliot's metaphors, recounting the allegorical tale of a blind man's literal Leap Of Faith or fussing over the spelling of 'pshaw', ranting in the persona of Hell's red-faced CEO or adopting a workman's nasal accent for a skeptical theological dispute, his every moment with us is a feast for the contemplative mind.
For the ear, too. 'I have always favored the 'Ham' school of acting', declares this son of a solicitor ( a trade well-acquainted with the power of oratory ) , deftly portrayed by Brad Armacost with an eloquence that never spills into excess. Tom Key's 90-minute adaptation is no talking-heads exercise, however, but incorporates an abundance of ticklish stage business for our host ( an intrusive cat outside the door, a futile quest for tea and teacups ) , while John Zuiker's scenic design surrounds Lewis with the cozy disorder we associate with Victorian decor—photographs, knick-knacks, weighty tomes for paging through or sitting upon—as does Alaric Rokko Jans' pensive music.
'Allow yourself to be surprised' our mentor exhorts us before sending us on our way. But in the very uncertainty implied therein lies the irony of this Provision Theatre production's location in the Royal George's 'Gallery' space, its sole access a steep staircase effectively barricading off the very audiences most likely to enjoy this intimate chat with the map-maker to the Great Beyond.