Daniel Gerroll and Robin Abramson
By Eugene Paul
William Nicholson’s winningly romantic depiction of the love between lionized
literary light C.S. Lewis and brave, brilliant poet Joy Gresham is being given
a movingly enlightened revival in director Christa Scott-Reed’s keenly
observed production, thanks to wonderful performances, particularly by Daniel
Gerroll as Lewis and Robin Abramson as Joy. The rest of the cast is pretty
stupendous, too, in this handsome, well knit show. Right from the beginning it
raises ripples of ‘what-ifs” Nicholson had not changed a few vital factors in
this true account in order to reveal the real truth, which of course, raises
all sorts of other stimulating questions.
Lewis and his older brother, Warnie, had been teaching at Oxford, living happy
bachelor lives – so far as they knew – for thirty years at their home, “The
Kilns” when complete anomaly Joy Gresham, an American admirer , came to tea.
Which was an anomaly in itself, the tea, that is. Entertaining by the brothers
consisted entirely of male Oxonians and their ilk. But Joy was a published
poet, a brilliant correspondent C.S. enjoyed tremendously. So when Joy asked
for the meeting -- she was in England with her boys to find a British
publisher – she seemed not only interesting but safe: married, two boys, a
wowed ‘em. Witty, bright, maybe brighter than they were, attractive, blunt,
charming. And brief. She left too soon. At least for C.S., known to his intimates
as Jack. Jack wanted to see her again. Something he had never expressed
before. And for a married woman? Brother Warnie felt first fears.
John C. Vennema, Robin Abramson, Daniel
Gerroll, Darryl Heysham, Stephanie Cpzart photos by Jeremy Daniel
was months before she returned. Correspondence had been a bit more fervid.
Jack was delighted. This time Joy was back to stay. Her husband, Bill Gresham,
himself a well known writer, was also a well known womanizer and drunk. They
were divorcing. Joy needed a place for her and the boys to live. Most of all,
Joy needed a friend. Jack was delighted. His friends were amused and wary. The
more Joy revealed about herself, the more delighted he became. She was Helen
Joy Davidman. She came from Polish parents who stopped being Orthodox Jews and
became atheists. She was an atheist vastly intrigued by Jack’s noted Catholic
visions of life and religious heterodoxy. Her boys were charmed by Jack’s
great hit, his “Narnia” books. Lots of charming going around. More worries for
here, an interpolation. Nicholson, writing his play, knew that one young boy
could be not only an appealing character, but a very useful one. Two was a
study in problems, developed and evolving. He took the brave step of altering
his manuscript. One boy. He was not altering the love story. And although you
have now been introduced to two boys, you are now, a bit wiser, being
introduced to a single son, nine year old Douglas, from the very beginning, and
a happier playwright.
Daniel Gerroll, Robin Abramson, and Jack
a year, Joy’s English residency was not renewed. She would have to go back to
the States. Both she and Jack were distraught. By this time, they were in
love, much to the consternation of the Oxford friends. And brother Warnie. Not
that anyone had breathed a peep. Jack offered a civil marriage so that she
could have permanent residency. Joy could stay. Joy accepted. Only she and
Jack knew they were wed. And Warnie, sweet worried Warnie. Where was he going
to live? At his age?
them, of course, Jack proposed. And Joy and Douglas moved into the Lewis
home. When she became seriously ill, Jack insisted they have a religious
marriage. Old friends-and clerics – turned away; she was a divorced woman.
Jack reached out of the faith. Joy became Christian. They were wed. And Joy
was diagnosed with a deadly cancer.
as events proved to all, more turbulent was the upheaval in Jack’s faith when
love and tragedy struck in such short order, when Jack realized he had never
known such happiness . When Jack had never known such pain. Was this God’s
doing? What kind of God? But C.S. Lewis not only observed his enormously grown
understanding of human feelings, he mined it. He recorded it. He published
it. Ever on the world stage.
director Scott-Reed’s handsome production, I particularly admired not only
Daniel Gerroll and Robin Abramson but also John C. Vennema’s touchingly
appealing Warnie, Sean Gormley’s upstaged Riley, Dan Kremer’s craven Reverend,
as well as the handsomeness of Kelly James Tighe’s efficient scenic design,
Michael Bevins’s keenly observed costumes. A thoughtful, moving, engrossing
Shadowlands. At the Acorn
Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $30-$75.
212-239-6200. 2 hrs, 15 min. Thru Jan 20, 2018.