Home / Arts & Life / Review: ‘Shadowlands,’ a Tale of C.S. Lewis’s Romance, Tackles a Different Tragedy

Review: ‘Shadowlands,’ a Tale of C.S. Lewis’s Romance, Tackles a Different Tragedy


Daniel Gerroll and Robin Abramson in “Shadowlands.”

Jeremy Daniel

When the public mood is a triple-strength cocktail of anxiety and alarm, there is something to be said for theater as comfort food. Heresy, I know — but it can be calming to sit for a while with a sturdily crafted, nicely cast play that was mild even when it was new.

Case in point: William Nicholson’s anodyne biodrama “Shadowlands,” which traces the late-blooming 1950s romance between the author and Oxford don C. S. Lewis (his friends call him Jack) and the poet Joy Davidman. Directed by Christa Scott-Reed for the Fellowship for Performing Arts, this is a story of unlikely soul mates. In Jack’s succinct phrasing, Joy is a “Jewish Communist Christian American.” He is Belfast-born, also Christian and as Establishment as they come.


From left, Dan Kremer, Sean Gormley, Daryll Heysham and John C. Vennema in “Shadowlands.”

Jeremy Daniel

Pen pals at first, they meet when Joy travels to Oxford. Jack (Daniel Gerroll) is a 50-something bachelor, already famous for the “Chronicles of Narnia” series. Emotionally reticent, he has a quiet warmth — and a coterie of male friends whose supercilious sexism shifts into high gear at the sight of Joy (Robin Abramson, in her New York debut). Nearing 40, unaware that her marriage is almost over, she is buoyant, likable and unnervingly straightforward.

“Your letters have been the most important thing in my life,” she tells Jack.

“Oh dear,” he says, not unkindly.

They become friends, then marry; bit by bit, Joy infuses him with life. As he tells the audience at the top of the show, the subject on his mind is “love, pain and suffering” — specifically, why a benevolent God allows people to endure horrendous loss. Theological inquiry fascinates Jack and Joy, but this question becomes more than hypothetical for them as tragedy looms.

The plot is wholly unsurprising even if you didn’t see the original Broadway production in 1990 (starring Nigel Hawthorne and Jane Alexander), or the television movie that spawned it (starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom), or the feature film adaptation (starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger) that came later.

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