Can the love story of a dumpy, overly intellectual Englishman in his 50s and a middle-aged, ex-poet from Brooklyn be interesting? Definitely. William Nicholson’s drama “Shadowlands” at last arrives in the Southland in a superbly executed production.
A writer of popular children’s fiction (“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”), Christian dogma and many scholarly treatises, English writer and confirmed bachelor C.S. Lewis (Dakin Matthews) hears from one of his fans from America, in England for a short vacation.
While he considers her odd –“An American Jewish Communist Christian”– he and his brother Warnie (Jack Sydow) agree to meet Joy (Kandis Chappell) and her son Douglas (David Stein). Their differences spark affection.
Gresham and Lewis become friends, and become closer when she moves to England after a divorce from her abusive husband.
Always guarded about his emotions, yet drawn to Gresham, Lewis admits his own strong feelings for her when she is hospitalized. His feelings are contrasted with a series of lectures he gives regarding God and tragedy.
Matthews reveals Lewis’ constant inner struggle. He pits English sensibility and strong religious convictions against an attraction to a woman his intellectual equal. And, in a scene with Joy’s son, rarely has despair been so heart-rendingly reproduced.
Chappell performs the magic of presenting Gresham first as plain-looking and odd, then quickly quite appealing. She shows Gresham as a woman quite aware of her power to intimidate.
Sydow brings a wonderful temperance to Lewis’ older brother. Richard Doyle creates a vivid, unapologetic character who serves as Lewis’ intellectual antagonist. Don Took, Hal Landon Jr., Mary Kay Wulf and Art Kousik also serve well in their roles.
Music and sound by Michael Roth, lighting design by Paulie Jenkins and costumes by Ann Bruice assist in ending South Coast Repertory’s year on a high note.