Shadowlands at Provision Theater

By William Nicholsonshadowlands at provision theater

Directed by Tim Gregory

Produced by Provision Theater

A difficult truth: “that a heart awakened to great love is also open to great pain.”

– C. S. Lewis

Shadowlands is a wonderful middle aged love story

Provision Theater presents another excellent work that combines rich storytelling with intellectual discourse on religion and the nature of love.   William Nicholson’s Shadowlands, is a powerful tear-jerker. It is a romantic love story that finds famous British author and scholar, C. S. Lewis, a committed bachelor, Christian, and Oxford professor, with outspoken American poet, Joy Gresham. In Shadowlands, their unlikely romance poses the basic questions about God and love, life and death, pain and suffering.

shadowlands at provision theater

We meet the glib and demure intellectual, ‘Jack’ C. S. Lewis (Brad Armacost) and his live-in brother “Warnie” Lewis (Leonard Craft) as they live a spartan existence in there drafty old Oxford flat. They exchange port with their colleagues while debating the merits of women, sin and the nature of pain. Jack appears as a confirmed bachelor content to spend his days lecturing and writing. His fantasies abound as the creator of Narnia science fiction adventure novels and “The Lion, The Witch” and “The Wardrobe.” Lewis also wrote much on Christian theology.

shadowlands at provision theater

His life changes drastically when he becomes enchanted by his correspondence with an American poet Joy Davidman Gresham (Susan Moniz in full rich Manhattan accent) that results in their meeting for tea in Oxford. Joy and her young son, Douglas (Johnny Rabe) are on an extended holiday to England. Jack and Joy immediately get sparks flying despite Jack being so shy that he nervously puts one hand in his jacket pocket as if he is feeling for a lost item. Brad Armacost plays Jack as a stuffy, overly introverted person yet a polite and friendly soul. Armacost is a world-class actor adapt at subtly conveying repressed emotion. We admire Jack as we cheer for him to find romantic love in his life. Joy’s outspoken American manner doesn’t sit well with Warnie or Jack’s colleagues. Susan Moniz plays Joy as a confident, independent liberated woman.

Joy seems to have her own agenda once she divorces her cheating husband. She returns to Oxford and surprises Jack. She takes a house nearby and flirts with the recluse writer. More sparks fly and the romance is on. Can the first kiss be far away? Jack is smitten by the intelligent outspoken poet despite her being hated by his friends.

shadowlands at provision theater

Jack agrees to ‘marry’ Joy in a civil ceremony so she can stay in Great Britain legally. As a divorcé Joy and Jack (who is an Anglican)—can not marry in the Church. Jack’s marriage is an act of friendship—not love. Strictly a legal maneuver.  This changes when Joy falls ill to advances bone cancer that put her near death. Jack realizes that Joy has offered him the pleasure of her companionship that leads to more than friendship—to love. Jack questions why God allows people to suffer pain. Is pain the cost of love?

The last scenes involving the three years Joy and Jack are allowed to enjoy when the cancer miraculously goes into submission are pure enjoyment. Jack finally experiences love; Joy has a supporting man in her life. Armacost and Moniz have winning stage chemistry that is heartfelt. Bring you hankies for the sad last few scenes. Tears flow as Joy finds warmth and comfort sharing her life and ultimately her battle against cancer, with her caring husband.

Shadowlands is a sweet, romantic play with characters we grow to love. It celebrates the triumph of the human spirit. It also shows that love can come to us later in life. It is nice to see a middle aged couple enjoy romantic love. It gives us all hope. With a fine script and a marvelous cast, Shadowlands is a warm, truthful love story.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: February 12, 2011

Jeff Recommended

For full show information, check out the Shadowlands page at Theatre In Chicago.

At Provision Theater, 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL, call 312-455-0065. www.provisiontheater.org, tickets $25 – $28, $15 students, $10 industry, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with intermission, through March 20, 2011