The Great Divorce now at the Pearl Theatre, as a Fellowship for Performing Arts production, is sending me right to the library to pick up the book by C.S.Lewis onwhich it is based. The arguments here are mighty and worth of a bona fide debate along the line of Willian F. Buckley vs. Gore Vidal, but without all the snooty bits. Which, on second thought, would make it not at all like Buckley v. Vidal. But you get the idea.
When I am assigned a show for review I do exactly nothing to prepare. Attribute it to my upbringing as a Catholic. I am still rebelling against people telling me what I should think before I have a chance to think it. So I go in as a blank slate. You will, therefore understand why I assumed that this play would be about a divorce – the popular extracurricular activity among the unhappily married.
Au contraire. This divorce is, well, I guess you could say it is the question at the center of the entire piece. In this story our Narrator (Joel Rainwater) embarks on a journey not of choice, but of destiny. He is swept into a new place and onto a bus that travels far up into the heavens. To the actual Heaven of everything. The Narrator meets several people in the bus que and then more once the destination has been reached. Each of these are played by the very fine duo of Christa Scott-Reed and Michael Frederic. While the destination of the bus is Heaven, it is unlike any Heaven that has been described from any pulpit, soapbox or subway platform. This Heaven is open to e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e and asks only that the person/ghost who is newly arrived agree to give over to the divine goodness that is there to serve. This divinity makes no judgment of good or bad. Murderers or murdered. The proud or the humbled. Each person is offered the opportunity to stay and become who they are anyway – a divine being just like all the others in the pea patch.
One by one we watch as the resident beings swat away the well reasoned choices that the visitors use to refuse the hospitality of Heaven. These visitors want justice, or the remnants of fame, or the return of a specific loved one, blah blah blah. They are being offered pearls, and like the swine they are they prefer the garbage they know. In other words they are just like us.
Lewis’s text is riveting, as text. His version of a human spiritual journey is singular for his time – 1945 – when good Christians’ image of Jesus was blonde and blue-eyed and when the western world was still entrenched in the misery of WWII. It is more akin to some of the spiritual guidance being offered today from people like Marianne Williamson, Depak Chopra and the entity Abraham, channeled by Esther Hicks. Heaven is reality and Hell is our fabrication. Lewis was way outside the box and not bashful about showing it.
As drama, this work is not so riveting. It is a narration with a story line that is flimsy at best – what will our narrator choose? His fate, however, is not as intriguing as the stories that he and we witness. I can understand why someone would want to put this tale up on the stage, but to place it there without a dramatic hook waters down the premiss. As a result this play is more of a travelogue through Lewis’s philosophy than a drama that sticks to your ribs. LIke I said – head over to the Library.
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, Directed by Bill Castellino
WITH Christa Scott-Reed, Joel Rainwater and Michael Frederic
Sets by Kelly James Tighe, Lights by Michael Gilliam, Costumes by Nicole Wee, Music and Sound by John Gromada
Presented by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts, Max McLean Artistic Director.
Tickets for all productions are now on sale. Through Sunday , January 3, 2016. To purchase tickets, please visit www.FPAtheatre.com or call 212-563-9261.