The first show of New England Repertory Theater at MMAS Black Box Theater for the 2009 season is "Shadowlands" by William Nicholson. The show takes place in Oxford, England in the 1950's and is the story about C.S. Lewis, an Oxford don and children's book author of the Narnia Chronicles and Joy Gresham, an American divorcee. It is told with vignettes of Jack's life before they met and his relationship with the men at Oxford, his brother, Warnie and how her son, Douglas influenced his life after her death. The show is performed in the round according to director Lucas Llyod " he chose to present it in the round due to the magic that was at the center of Lewis' vision of the world and at the center of the events in this production. For the central characters of the story, and for Lewis in particular, all they can physically see and interact with are the mundane realities in front of them, But what they don't see is a world all around them that is even more real than their own world." It starts off with his lecture about "Love, pain and suffering" as he delivers the lecture the audience learns he became an atheist after his mother's death from cancer when he was 10 years old and how he became a Christian. It follows Lewis as he meets an American fan, Joy Gresham, who he befriends and eventually marries. The story also deal with his struggle with personal pain and grief:Lewis preaches that one should endure suffering with patience, but finds that the simple answers he preached no longer apply when Joy becomes afflicted with terminal cancer and eventually dies. The magic world Lewis created influences Joy's son to enter the wardrobe in Lewis' home to find a magic apple to cure his mother and when this seems to work, the audience believes in this magical world. Jack first regards Joy as an agreeable intellectual companion and personal friend, and agrees to enter into a civil marriage contract with her so that she could continue to live in England. Lewis' brother, Warnie wrote "Joy was the only woman whom he had met who had a brain which matched his own in suppleness, in width of interest, and in analytical grasp, and above all in humour and a sense of fun." Although the story might at first be not appealing, it's intellectual and interesting qualities of the presentation will draw you into the shadows of this play, leaving you laughing at the humorous moments which are many as well as the tragic, dramatic ones, too. Mr. Lloyd not only directs the show beautifully but he choreographs the cast into moving set pieces on and off stage with ease, keeping the scenes flowing into one another perfectly. His eleven member cast delivers the goods in all these various roles especially 10 year old Matt Kassler as Douglas who tugs at your heartstrings in a touching scene after his mother's death in the second act. This scene resonates with the audience who can relate to it and it parallels Lewis' loss of his mother at the same age.
Lucas surrounds himself with topnotch technical staff, too. He is a wonderful actor as well as director, having reviewed him in "Barefoot in the Park" and "Wait Until Dark". Glenn Fournier designed the set including the hardwood floors and the magical closet with special effects including the smoke and lighting by Ken Butler. All the 1950's costumes are by Mary Jane McCool as are the props and the sound design is by Justin Trask. The stage managers who keep things running smoothly all night long are Alan Conway and Alina Favazza who is also in the show as the Nurse. Leading the cast is Mike Kiernan as Jack who has 100 pages of lines in the show. He runs the gamut of emotions from anger, confusion, befuddled to joy and passion when he finally realizes he loves Joy when he comes to almost losing her. Dawn Crocker Tucker is excellent as Joy and she is a member of Actors' Equity. She is a beautiful strawberry blonde who is demure at first, then speaks her mind to Jack's stuffy friends especially the overbearing know it all, Christopher Riley played wonderfully by Frank Bartucca. Her scenes in the hospital bed are riveting and the relationship with her son is heartfelt and tender. (She utters the line about entering into the shadows right before Joy's death.) As I said earlier Matt Kassler is astounding at a young age, paying rapt attention to the other performers whether he is delivering dialogue or just listening to them deliver their lines. Bruce Church plays Warnie. His looks of astonishment at his brother's behavior are hilarious and as always his line delivery is perfect. Bruce can handle dramatic and comic roles with ease and this is another feather in his cap. Other talented members of the cast include Paul Bono as Reverend Harry Harrington who tells Jack he can't marry them in the Church of England at that time due to Joy being a divorcee, Joe Favazza who plays Maurice Oakley a professor and also Joy's doctor, Joe LaGreca, who plays Alan Gregg, a friend of Jack's, Tom Ostrowski who plays a priest who marries them in the hospital and Alice Springer as the Registrar who performs their civil ceremony. So for a look back at an episode in the life of the popular author of children's books, Christian apologist, literary critic, academic, radio broadcaster and novelist, be sure to catch "Shadowlands" at MMAS.