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Suffering in the Shadowlands

"The script, based on Lewis’s book A Grief Observed, tells how Joy Davidman, a brash American convert, barrelled into C.S. Lewis’s settled life as a dusty bachelor Oxford Don. Lewis and Joy married (technically), fell in love, married again (“in the eyes of God”), and then spent a few short years together before Joy died of bone cancer—leaving Lewis and her son Douglas to grapple with grief.

Their first, civil marriage was for immigration reasons, a courtesy of Lewis to his friend. Their second marriage was conducted in a hospital by a priest, a deathbed sacrament coupled with last rites.

It was quite plausibly a miracle that Joy recovered and she and Lewis got to live as man and wife for a few years. The play downplays the miracle, perhaps to dodge the potential scorn of a skeptical audience. The Lewis onstage resists seeing anything supernatural in Joy’s convalescence, causing Joy to mock-scold her husband, “You let me keep my miracle!” In reality, the historical Lewis accepted the remission of Joy’s cancer as a direct answer to prayer.

The FPA production captures the comedy-of-manners of it all, with Robin Abramson’s Joy a delightful dynamo and Daniel Gerroll’s Lewis a prim professor drawn slowly out of his tweedy shell.

It also builds in two moments of Narnian magic—one riffing on the iconic entrance into Narnia through a wardrobe, but the other less predictable and more interesting. As Lewis and Joy are sacramentally married while she lies in what seems likely to be her deathbed, Joy’s son Douglas steps out of 20th century England into the realm of fantasy. He plucks a magical apple, like the one that healed the protagonist’s mother in The Magician’s Nephew, and brings it to Joy’s bedside. Thus the play says what the character Lewis doesn’t: That Joy’s recovery is a little outside the order of nature.

And by the juxtaposition of the otherworldly apple and the marriage vows, it suggests that Christian marriage is itself a supernatural boon from another world."

Read the whole piece at Catholic Arts Today


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