William Nicholson‘s Shadowlands (Open Window Theatre, through March 10) is a modest play – and I intend this to be high praise. It contains no screechy over-the-top theatrics, no check-me-out-ain’t-I-clever acting, no self-consciously “original” story-lines. Rather, Nicholson simply and effectively evokes a time and place: Oxford University in the 50s, in a Neverneverland England, a place where eccentric academics wear tattered robes, read hoary old books with cracked covers, live in unheated houses, drink port and ale in dusty pubs. And talk with endless cleverness.
But one of them – C.S. (“Jack”) Lewis – wonders: isn’t there something else? Doesn’t true God-light shine somewhere beyond the seductive shadows of this world? Isn’t there some way to reach it? Isn’t this why God asks us to suffer?
Lewis is played with understated passion by relative newcomer Paul Andrew (returning to acting after a long hiatus). Andrew plays Lewis with a perfect combination of unaffected sweetness and compelling honesty. One senses his yearning, his building frustration with the attenuated wit of his colleagues. Lewis is, IOW, ready for joy.
Which he finds in the person of the aptly named Joy Davidson. Joy is Jewish, American, and divorced (strikes 1, 2 and 3). A poet. Blessed with a young son, sweet and amazingly well-behaved; but still… Joy enters Jack’s life at the perfect time and Shadowlands recounts the story of their relationship, as it goes from simple friendship, to a marriage of convenience, to a real marriage built on genuine love, to Joy’s death – and Jack’s route out of the shadowy realm of this world.
Joy is played by Katherine Kupiecki, again with understated passion. Is this marriage ever consummated? I would have guessed not, until the final scene, when their affection takes on real physicality. It’s one of the loveliest elements of this production (kudos to the actor and to director Joy – another one! – Donley) that the sicker Joy becomes, the sexier she is.
The production is lovely, but I have one over-riding criticism: the accents are, ahem, not good. At best, they are inconsistent, as with Andrew and Joe Hendren‘s prickly, pedantic and prissy – and delightful – Christopher. Some actors – Joel Thingvall, who plays Jack’s brother Warren with lumbering alcoholic charm – don’t even try. But this is a minor annoyance; Donley has staged a quietly effective Shadowlands, and it’s well worth a look.
Especial praise is due Jerrod Sumner who plays the Reverend with squinty eccentricity. Would anyone believe a word this man-of-God says? Every time he opened his mouth I laughed.
Open Window is a newish theater located in an out-of-the-way warehouse space a few blocks behind St. Mary’s. Give yourself an extra fifteen minutes to find it. Use Google Maps. You’ll be glad you did. The space is a gem. The seats are – get this – comfortable.
For more info about John Olive please check out his website.