The man behind ‘Narnia’

Olympia Little Theatre explores romance between author C.S. Lewis, American writer Joy Gresham

Contributing writerOctober 25, 2013 

Kendra Malm was at the library looking for a good movie. When she spotted “Shadowlands,” a drama about author C.S. Lewis’ late-in-life romance, Malm found not just an evening’s entertainment, but also a play that she wanted to direct.

“Shadowlands” by William Nicholson, opens tonight at Olympia Little Theatre. The script began as a BBC film before becoming a stage play and then a 1993 film starring Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and Debra Winger as American writer Joy Gresham.

The library, it turned out, had the 1993 film and also a copy of the stage play. “I checked that out, too,” she said, “and I found that a really fascinating story.”

She’d long appreciated Lewis’ fantasy books — the “Chronicles of Narnia” series and the lesser-known space trilogy that begins with “Out of the Silent Planet” — but got a new perspective on the writer from the play and films. (She ended up watching both the American and British versions.)

“I knew that he had married late in life to this American he met through correspondence,” she said. “But I hadn’t known about the whole process of their meeting and falling in love and getting married. That was a revelation for me. It was fairly dramatic.”

The play adds a new dimension to the author, whom most people know mostly as the creator of Narnia, says Toni Holm, president of the theater’s board.

“It’s a sweet thing,” she said. “I never knew that about C.S. Lewis. It’s cool to think about him in a personal way as well as through his fantasy books.”

The couple’s relationship began with a two-year correspondence — something that has an interesting parallel for many modern couples, Holm said.

“Their relationship really deepened through writing to each other, which is really what a lot of people are doing on the Internet now,” she said. “People talk a lot about ‘Can Internet relationships be real?’ I have two friends who are in happy relationships with people they met on the Internet.”

The play’s cinematic origins show, Malm said.

“It moves from scene to scene, and it has been a challenge to integrate all of those scene changes on our little stage,” she said. “We’ve divided the stage into two areas, an upstage and a downstage, and then used minimal furniture pieces to move on and off.”

The director had a very clear idea of how she wanted to portray the two writers at the center of the play.

“I wanted to bring out what I thought was important in the characters that maybe had not come out in the movie,” she said. “I wanted to show a little bit more of C.S. Lewis’ groundedness and to make the character of Joy attractive enough so that you can see why he falls for her. I didn’t want to make her just an abrasive New Yorker.”

The actors she found, Scott Douglas and Stacy Hopkins, are both relative newcomers to the theater. Douglas has worked with Animal Fire Theatre, while Hopkins has done some theater in Aberdeen.

Hopkins “had both the gumption and the sweetness that I was looking for in Joy,” the director said.

Malm found Douglas at the Olympia Audition League’s open auditions. “I thought he was perfect — exactly what I was looking for,” she said.

Shadowlands

What: Olympia Little Theatre presents a drama based on the romance between author and theologian C.S. Lewis and outspoken American writer Joy Gresham.

When: 7:55 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2 and 7-9; matinees at 1:55 p.m. Nov. 3 and 10

Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia

Tickets: $12-$15 at Yenney Music or olympialittletheatre.org

More information: 360-786-9484 or olympialittletheatre.org

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

What: Fans of Lewis might also want to catch a production of his classic fantasy, in its closing weekend.

When: 7 p.m. Friday; 1, 4:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Black Box at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $16 for adults; $12 for students, seniors and military; $9 for children 12 and younger

More information: olyft.org or 360-570-1638, or for tickets, olytix.com or 360-753-8586

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