Playwright: Max McLean. At: Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: 773-325-1700; MercuryTheaterChicago.com; $55-59. Runs through: Aug. 14
After finding out that C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert was centered around the Chronicles of Narnia writer's transition from atheism to staunch Christianity, I was determined to keep an open mind. Fellowship for the Performing Arts has been lauded in the past for its ability to create secular plays that appeal to a non-secular audience, and I had hoped that C.S. Lewis would do the same.
As the one-man play began, I began to worry that what I had read was wrong. Actor Max McLean portrayed Lewis' retrospective on his life. As a young man, Lewis used academics to justify his atheist stance. McLean played Lewis later in his life looking back at his youth in a way that portrayed atheism as a naive, foolish belief. It was clearly geared toward a religious audience, which would have been fine if I hadn't felt like my beliefs were made to be the butt of the joke during most of the show.
Aside from the tone of religious superiority, the writing was smart. References to Lewis' writing were nestled into the dialogue, and I did find myself laughing along during many scenes.
McLean was the show's saving grace. Although the script itself felt preachy at times, McLean was a convincing and enthralling Lewis. As it was a one-man show, he faced the even more difficult task of telling Lewis' story without boring the audience and he accomplished that easily.
Unfortunately, the spell McLean seemed to cast over the audience was broken early on in the play due to technical difficulties that brought the entire show to a halt for about 20 minutes. The unique backdropa projection that shifted throughout the show instead of physically changing the setsomehow started changing haphazardly at the incorrect times.
The crew paused the show to try to fix the projectionwithout avail. The show went on eventually but the background couldn't be changed at all. Although I felt we might have missed out on an essential part of the play, I was also a bit grateful that the slide show-style background was no longer a factor. To be frank, the projection distracted from the play. The way it shifted from one background to another and zoomed in and out felt a bit like PowerPoint, which contrasted with the rich props and set which replicated rooms in Lewis' study.
Overall, there were factors of the show that I really did enjoy, but the actual premise of the show was too condescending and biased for me to overlook.