Adapting a novel for the stage comes with considerable risk. The adaptor needs to be as true as possible to the original dense text – especially in the case of C. S. Lewis. The adaptor also has to delineate the characters with honesty and believability and present their conflicts and the plot they drive with the authenticity inherent in the original text. Max McLean and Brian Watkins succeed in all of these aspects in their adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s novel “The Great Divorce” for the stage.
The difficulty arises in the specific interpretation of C. S. Lewis’s novel the adaptors have given to their production now running at the Pearl Theatre Company. Readers of rich text know the author has established a setting which includes mood and the readers connect to text on many levels and are free to interpret what they read in a variety of ways. For example, “The Great Divorce” as a novel is not necessarily pedantic or proselytizing in nature. This adaptation by the Fellowship for Performing arts is both pedantic and proselytizing. That does not mean it is less than successful. It simply means that the production feels preachy and those choosing to attend a performance need to be prepared for that. The producers transform Lewis’s theological fantasy into an unapologetic sermon.
The three actors tackle the play with zeal and bring authenticity and believability to the twenty-something characters in “The Great Divorce.” Christa Scott-Reed is remarkable in all of her roles, shining as the Artist Ghost, the Ghost of Robert’s Wife, and the Spirit for the Ghost with the Red Lizard. This Broadway veteran knows how to embrace her characters with careful scrutiny and tease them into vibrant entities. Joel Rainwater is effective as the narrator and – sans eyeglasses – the Ghost with the Red Lizard. And Michael Frederic handily portrays the Bowler Hat Man, the Boss Ghost, and George MacDonald.
Bill Castellino directs the adaptation with a keen eye for detail and keeps the action moving and the delineation between scenes precise. Kelly James Tighe’s set is workable and powerful in its sparseness. Michael Gilliam’s lighting design is inventive and quite interesting at times. And Nicole Wee’s costumes are serviceable and some quite stunning.
The Fellowship for Performing Arts is to be commended for bringing C. S. Lewis to the stage. Their work is thought provoking and therefore worth the look. Next up at the Pearl is the company’s adaptation of Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” from January 6 through 24.
THE GREAT DIVORCE
C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” is presented by the Fellowship for Performing Arts and features direction by Bill Castellino, scenic design by Kelly James Tighe, lighting design by Michael Gilliam, costume design by Nicole Wee, original music and sound design by John Gromada, and projection design by Jeffrey Cady. Production photos by Joan Marcus.
The cast features Michael Frederic, Joel Rainwater, and Christa Scott Reed.
For performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://fpatheatre.com/.