Thursday, July 7, 2016

One-man show on C.S. Lewis transports audience to 1963 England

Entering the theater for the performance of An Evening with C.S. Lewis, the attendees found an empty arm chair next to an end table on the stage. On the table rested a cup and saucer and a glowing lamp. Other than those props, the stage at Pearl River Community College’s Ethel Holden Brownstone Center for the Arts was empty on February 11, 2016.

When British actor David Payne took the stage, the few props transformed into the living room of literary legend C.S. Lewis in 1963. The audience became a group of American writers visiting Lewis at The Kilns, his home outside Oxford. Payne began an extended monologue which entranced his listeners and carried them into the world of the man who brought Narnia to the world.

Lewis, known as Jack to his family and friends, led an amazing, often difficult life. Payne shared retrospective of that life as Lewis approaches the end of his road. The one-man play includes memories of Lewis’ childhood and young adulthood, his professional relationships, his marriage and his faith journey.

Early in the play, the viewers heard of the literary rivalry between Lewis and T.S. Eliot. Their friendship endured their mutual disdain for each other’s genre.

A passion for Norse mythology, ignited by a reading of a Longfellow poem, provided common ground for a friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien. Payne took the audience through their relationship, speaking of critique sessions and encouragement.

Tolkien and Hugo Dyson influenced Lewis in his decision to abandon his stand as an atheist and return to faith. Payne described the events with his well-modulated British cadence, showing the passion in his language rather than the volume of his voice.

The play included discussion of Lewis’ service in World War I and how it interrupted his college education.

Through the story of meeting of Joy Gresham, her move to England, their marriage of convenience followed by a true marriage, to her death just eight years after their first meeting, Payne displayed a depth of emotion tempered with hope. Lewis based his book The Shadowlands on his relationship with Gresham.

Payne auditioned for a bit part in the play based on The Shadowlands in 1996. He won the lead, which began his deep affection for the author’s work and led to his writing of this play and other works based on the life and works of C.S. Lewis.

With his measured British accent and liberal use of wit, Payne enthralled the audience at the Brownstone. A brief question-and-answer session following the play allowed them to get to know him better. He spoke of how much he enjoyed the theater in the small Mississippi town. Payne joked about Poplarville’s single traffic signal.

Any fan of C.S. Lewis’ writings will find the evening well spent. Students of twentieth century history will enjoy the insights into the period. Theater fans in general can lose themselves in the magic of an arm chair, a table, a lamp and a talented British actor recreating a bygone author’s twilight. Look for An Evening with C.S. Lewis.

Originally appeared 02/12/2016 at

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