C.S. Lewis' life story affectionately told at Metropolis

 
 
Updated 3/17/2015 3:30 PM
hello
  • David Payne plays British writer and scholar C.S. Lewis in "An Evening With C.S. Lewis," running through April 12 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

    David Payne plays British writer and scholar C.S. Lewis in "An Evening With C.S. Lewis," running through April 12 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. Courtesy of Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

  • C.S. Lewis (David Payne) regales visiting writers with tales from his life in "An Evening With C.S. Lewis," an affectionate tribute to the British writer written and directed by Payne and running through April 12 at Arlington Heights' Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.

    C.S. Lewis (David Payne) regales visiting writers with tales from his life in "An Evening With C.S. Lewis," an affectionate tribute to the British writer written and directed by Payne and running through April 12 at Arlington Heights' Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Courtesy of Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

From "An Evening With C.S. Lewis," it's clear writer/director David Payne has a keen knowledge of his subject -- the British scholar and Christian apologist who wrote such classic novels as "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "The Screwtape Letters."

The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's production of Payne's gentle, affectionate tribute also reveals the London-born hyphenate is quite a storyteller. But when it comes to theater, "An Evening With C.S. Lewis" is less than gripping.

Payne plays the titular role in his one-man bio-drama chronicling Lewis' life. Included are his youth in Belfast, his crisis of faith as a young man, his tenure as an Oxford University professor, a longtime friendship with fellow literary giant J.R.R. Tolkien and his late-in-life marriage to American writer Joy Davidman Gresham.

The play unfolds in 1963, in Lewis' home outside Oxford, England, where the professor -- known as Jack, the nickname he bestowed on himself -- shares with a group of visiting American writers the story of his life. Sitting in a wingback chair next to a sturdy desk on which sits an ancient typewriter, the tweedy, bespectacled Jack (played with avuncular erudition by the likable Payne) recalls his childhood home, describing himself as "a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude ... also of endless books."

We learn of his passion for literature (Norse mythology in particular), his abiding affection for his older brother Warren (known as Warnie) and his grief over his mother's death when he was 9 years old, one of the factors that contributed to him rejecting his Christian faith several years later. Payne's Lewis also describes his academic life, including his 29 years at Oxford where he enjoyed his first literary success and where he regained his faith, which his university colleagues criticized as a betrayal of his intellect.

Payne peppers his play with anecdotes involving Tolkien, the poet T.S. Eliot and his relationship with Gresham, which began in 1950 with letters, blossomed into friendship and led to a brief marriage in 1956 that ended four years later with Gresham's death.

Payne spins Lewis' life story easily and with obvious sincerity. But heartfelt as it is, "An Evening With C.S. Lewis" is an incomplete tale in that Payne leaves out entirely or provides only a cursory examination of key moments in Lewis' life.

He doesn't address Lewis' relationship with Jane Moore, the mother of a friend and fellow soldier killed during World War I. Lewis supported Moore after her son's death and biographers have speculated their relationship may have been a romantic one. He also doesn't delve deeply into Lewis' rejection and reclamation of Christianity. Considering how profoundly Lewis' faith influenced his work, it seems like a missed opportunity that might have added some dramatic weight to the play.

That's what's missing from the show: emotional depth. Agreeable as Payne is, he doesn't plumb the emotional depths of this character. Instead, he sticks to the middle ground. Perhaps that's the preferred state of British intellectuals like Lewis, who was certainly the product of an era where people rarely expressed their emotions effusively.

But this is theater, and theater demands drama and passion. "An Evening With C.S. Lewis" needs an infusion of both.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.