Saturday, September 20, 2014

An Evening with CS Lewis

Stage directions: Enter, sit, pour tea, stand, exit.

That's about it. But in the 90 minutes it takes to execute that simple blocking our attention did not waver for a second.

Of course it didn't hurt that the script was based on the writings of C.S. Lewis, one of the most brilliant minds of any generation, not to mention one of the funniest!

The first Christian book David Payne read was The Screwtape Letters, which led to him becoming a Christian. At a breakfast where he spoke on Wednesday he said that after losing a great deal in the business world, "I learned so many more things through failure than I did through success." At 55 he was back in business, and things were going so well he was looking for a diversion. He was working in Nashville and saw a casting call for Shadowlands, and though he'd never acted before he landed the lead role of C.S. Lewis. Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson, was in the audience opening night, and the way was opened for Payne to do two different one-man plays about Clive Staples, or Jacksie, as the play reveals he called himself at the age of four. Naming himself after the family dog who had just died seemed better than facing life with his birth name.

Payne was asked why his performance of "A Grief Observed," the first of his one-man plays, has been so successful, given the theme of grief. He said Lewis found that celebrating his marriage to Joy was more healing than mourning her death. Payne believes that comes through in the play.

A quick search of the internet confirmed that I've probably never seen video footage of Lewis, but Payne, a genteel Brit, made me feel as if it truly was an evening with the Oxford don himself.

I had told him at the Wednesday breakfast that I saw his performances (probably all of them) at The Lamb's Theatre shortly after I arrived in NYC 20 years ago. I mentioned that his was the third one-man play I'd ever seen and was one of the ways the Lord wooed me into a career performing one-man plays myself. Last night when he told me he'd mentioned me to his wife my brain did some gymnastics I didn't fully grasp until later: In a nano-second I thought, "You just told us Joy died. Wait! You died! Oh, no you only portrayed C.S. Lewis. Your wife is alive!" The play was that fully captivating.

He's planning a short run of Off-Broadway performances either next fall or the spring of 2015. If you're anywhere near NYC (or Chicago for that matter since he's doing a stint there soon or anywhere really because he might get to you some day) I recommend signing up for his Facebook, YouTube and blog feeds at www.DavidPayneDrama.com.

Christians should know:
* There's talk of beer and bottoms
* Oh, and subverting the government

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