Sunday, November 07, 2010

Shadowlands, a review

Shadowlands a drama written by William Nicholson and produced by Trinity Street Players at the black box theater on the fourth floor of The First Baptist Church of Austin Texas.

While it seems strange to review a theater troupe I started three years ago and a play I picked just nine months ago, I'm doing it anyway, because you need to see this play.

You need to see this play.


Many reasons. Namely, it's an excellent play. Well written, a fine piece of art. But put the words on the page into the mouths of actors and put the actors on the stage next to scenery and under lights and the art takes life. And art is, I believe, the most natural expression of humanity. Shadowlands as presented by Trinity Street Players is good art. But in addition to being a good play that is performed well, you need a good laugh, and you need a good cry, and you need to think about the issues this play raises.

Is friendship a lost cause? Is love worth it? Is pain God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world? Are we walking in the shadows of what is to come? Are we trying to be offensive when we put limitations on the heart, soul and minds of our companions on this journey or are we merely stupid?

Here's the thing about intellectual elitism. I can write this because I went to seminary with men who went on to get PhDs in Philosophy, Theology, etc. I was taught by such men in higher education courses. Men who never stepped into a pastorate but only observed it from afar with their academic posture guiding them through their relationships with their community and really through their relationship with God. And of course, there are those intellectual elitists who turn away from all religion because anything emotional that could be presupposed by our need to feel safe is simply an artifice humanity (or rather "man" as most elitists don't pay much attention to political correctness for indeed there are intellectual superior beings to whom enlightenment has been bestowed and if they happen to be men, well, why recognize anyone else?) has created... God, the ultimate figment of our imagination. The thing about intellectual elitism is that when we experience suffering, the playing field is leveled. It doesn't matter how thoughtful we are, how well we can ascribe language or theories to explain certain situations, how educated, how rich, how poor, how simple how unenlightened, how beautiful, how homely, how stagnant, how progressive we are. When we suffer, everything we know and believe about life - no matter how hard we try to intellectualize it - everything is thrown in limbo, and we all end up at the same place, on the same ground, asking the same questions.

I laughed hard at this production. The text is naturally humorous at times as any well-written play about relationships, men, women, friendship, love and sex will be. However, it would be lost on a naive or unprofessional cast. The balance that director David McCullars brought to the weight of the subject matter the audience already knew was both necessary and well played. Laughter too is a part of pain and a part of joy. And Joy. She was a smart, funny woman whom most of Lewis' friends resented, brought back to life by local actor Linda Miller Raff. Not a nuance was lost by Linda as she played the Jewish, materialist, atheist, communist Christian, Joy Gresham. And Jose Shenkner as Lewis, well, he was beyond remarkable. Check out this clip...

I cried a lot. I practically cried just watching that trailer again.

Maybe I cried because I gave up my job at FBC, gave up producing Shadowlands, gave up running this program, creating art and indigenous ministry in this beautiful theater that I once called mine. That's the apple we used in The Diaries of Adam and Eve, I thought as Douglas pulled it from the wardrobe. That's the chair Don York brought in for the witness stand in Inherit the Wind. That's the logo I paid my friend Joy Kusek to design to represent this unique theater. That's motor oil on that box - motor oil David loves to paint with, motor oil that Cathy Jones fell into four gallons of during Steel Magnolias. And the narcissist wept.

Maybe I cried because one of my former parishioners at FBC who happens to be one of my former actors at Trinity Street Players and one of my good friends, drove into town to see this play with her mother, a woman resigned to a wheelchair and also dying of cancer.... Like Joy Gresham, she too had her miracle recovery but this time, like Joy, she too will die. I could not watch the play without the keen awareness that I was experiencing the play too.

Maybe I cried because "everybody hurts... sometimes," and this play grapples with the profundity we all will experience at some point in our lives. Everybody loves and everybody loses. "The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal."

Suffering, you can't escape it.

I know it sounds like a downer... but this play! In addition to Jose and Linda, Ben Eynon as Riley was spot on, if obnoxious. Joe Grady Moore the third, an FBC favorite, was the brother to Lewis we all long to have. And the innocence of eight-year-old Ryan Ramsey, a character in Lewis and Joy's story, but a metaphor for the loss we all experience in life.... Oh my God, the beauty of this play! To hear the words of scholar, novelist and Christian, C.S. Lewis, articulated in the context of his life with the academic, the religious, and the drunk dons at Oxford, is an extraordinary experience. Even if you aren't familiar with Lewis' writing or are not a person ascribing to faith or spirituality, his words will move you, startle you and compel you to wonder...


I'd share some of my favorite quotes with you, but I lent out my copy of the script to the director.

So go experience it yourself. Two more weekends. November 12-14 and 19-21. Call 476-2625 for reservations Mon-Fri or email now. And it's FREE!! "The best no-money I've ever spent," my new roommate said! (But take along some cash cause it's non-profit and theater is expensive). If you don't want to take our word for it though, read another review at Austin Live Theater.

Oh, and David McCullars, I want my script back, please.

1 comment:

David McCullars said...

Cinda told me to tell you she'd like to have her white boots back. Methinks a hostage negotiation is in order.