NEW YORK — Last weekend, the stage adaption “C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce” performed its preview shows to full houses in midtown Manhattan’s Pearl Theater.

Written by Founder and Artistic Director Max McLean and Brian Watkins of the Fellowship for Performing Arts, this off-Broadway production opens the company’s inaugural New York City season.

Explaining why they decided to work with “The Great Divorce,” McLean said, “We had such a good experience with adapting “The Screwtape Letters” for the stage that we wanted to bring another [C.S. Lewis] book to the stage.”

The play features three actors portraying different roles on a small stage with a striking animated backdrop. The backgrounds changed from scene to scene; paintings of grey cityscapes to snowcapped mountains in the distance.

It begins with the protagonist falling asleep only to awake in a dark city where it consistently rains. The background is only shades of black and grey, and the only people the main character meets are consistently arguing with one another at the bus stop.

A man even punches a woman during the scene and tells the main character “let her lay” when the latter tries to help her. It is revealed later that the city is Hell and that it is ever expanding into an abyss. That is why the city seemed empty upon arrival.

Throughout his journeys in this strange dream world, theology surrounding the idea of Heaven and Hell are explored through small scenarios he encounters.

The main character then boards a bus and travels to a strange, colorful world of dense environments with large roaring water falls, forests and picturesque rivers.

It is here that the main protagonist – also known as the narrator – discovers that he and other passengers on the bus are ‘ghosts’. The grass beneath their feet will not bend becoming painful and difficult to walk on.

Beings of light come to greet and guide those who set foot off the bus. There is a catch though; to stay, all these ‘ghosts’ had to do was confront their earthy mistakes and sins before making a long trek up the mountain.

If they chose to stay, the journey up the mountain would solidify them and the grass would no longer hurt to walk on. This paradise represents Heaven, and Hell in this realm is nothing but a crack in the ground.

All but one returns to the grey city in the end. A man who has an obsession with a tiny red lizard makes the decision to stay, handing the small whispering creature over to the solid person that is there to guide him.

Each of the individuals the main character encounters represents an attitude; there is the old woman in grey who cuts across the stage with the words ‘grumble’ following her across the animated backdrop.

 (Credit: Fellowship of Performing Arts)

(Credit: Fellowship of Performing Arts)

 

Some of the sins these ‘ghosts’ must learn to let go of in order to stay in Heaven are lust, greed, and the need to control others.

However, there is one character in Lewis’ book that is missing from the colorful cast. The bishop is absent in the stage adaption.

McLean stated that the bishop’s story was “too religious and [theologically] acute for a diverse audienc that really don’t care about the arguments presented in that story.”

“Having said that, I love the bishop’s last speech,” he said.

Sharing his favorite part of the play, McLean added, “I think the Hard Bitten ghost speaks to postmodern cynical sensibilities in a very powerful way. Also the Grumbler and several MacDonald speeches convict me about the eternal reality of my every day choices.”

With minimal props, the actors bring to life deep concepts. If you had the chance to stay in ‘Paradise’ and all you had to do is confront your sins, would you do it? Perhaps the better question is: could you?

“C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce” began November 13 and runs till January 32016. For tickets, visit this website.


Emma Clark (@EmmaE_Clark) is a visiting NYC Semester in Journalism (NYCJ) student from Johnson University now studying at The King’s College