Wednesday, October 30, 2013


A Study in Love and Suffering
Scott Douglas, Rick Bates and John Pratt

Best known for his fantasy novel series The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis was a theologian, a poet and a professor of English at Oxford University in England. Shadowlands, directed by Kendra Malm and now playing at Olympia Little Theatre, is the story of Lewis’s love for the American poet Joy Gresham who wrote under the pen name Joy Davidman.

The play opens with Lewis (played by Scott Douglas) standing at a lectern with his friends and fellow professors seated behind him — they are actually in place for the next scene when they all gather for drinks. A clever bit of stagecraft, that. Lewis lectures on why God allows suffering in this world. He is well reasoned, self-satisfied, brilliant, and witty, with an abundance of legendary British reserve. He says suffering is a wake-up call and that without suffering we cannot know joy, which turns out to be an unintentional pun since a woman named Joy is soon to come into his life and bring him love and suffering. Throughout the rest of the play we see evidence of clashes between his theology and the reality of his life. In many ways the whole play is a theological debate acted out through real life events, and it is a touching love story.

Scott Douglas and Stacey Hopkins

Scott Douglas and Tim Butterfield. All photos by Kendra Malm

Lewis is unwavering in his convictions until Joy comes into his life, but she cracks through to make him a better man.

This is Malm’s first attempt at directing a dramatic play. Her previous outings as both actor and director have all been in comedies. Kudos—it seems she made the switch easily.

The cast is excellent and features a number of actors who are new to OLT but who have earned their acting chops elsewhere. Most outstanding are the actors filling the primary roles: Douglas as C.S. Lewis, Stacey Hopkins as Joy, and Tim Butterfield as Lewis’s brother Warnie. There’s an old saying in theater: never let ’em catch you acting. I certainly didn’t catch Douglas, Hopkins and Butterfield acting on opening night. This trio inhabited their roles so comfortably that I expected them to go home together after the show. Also turning in fine performances were John Pratt as Professor Christopher Riley, the irascible professor who plays devil’s advocate throughout, and Nick Hayes who was the soul of sweetness as Joy’s son, Douglas.

Everything is underplayed in Shadowlands, to the point that I found myself wishing at times they would not be so damned formal. I wanted to see more fireworks, but I think the lack of histrionics is true to the characters they portray. There were moments opening night when the actors did not project well enough. This was true of most of them, and that is a problem at OLT  because some seats are a great distance from parts of the stage area and they don’t use microphones.

Matt Moeller designed the set, which features a very nice backdrop with a series of pictures that look like old wood block prints. I imagined these might be copies of illustrations from early editions of The Chronicles of Narnia but an online search did not turn up any evidence of that. At any rate, they lend a feeling of authenticity. I enjoyed the selection of 1950s pop tunes played during scene changes, even if they did cut them off abruptly instead of fading them as they should have. I was also impressed with the lighting (designed by Malm).

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 10
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $12-$15, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or
INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

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