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Tell you something I've noticed, Jack. Christopher lives the life of a monk, and talks about nothing but women. Harry's married, and never says a word about his wife — Warnie
What shall we conclude from that, Warnie? That women are more interesting in theory than in practice? — Jack
Daniel Gerroll and Robin Abramson. (Photo: Jeremy Daniel).
For me, the Shadowlands story began almost thirty years ago when I watched a rather short TV film about the tender tragically aborted relationship between British writer C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman. Its stars were Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom and the gentility of William Nicholson's script held me captive and moved. Then in 1990 , the Broadway play version appeared starring Nigel Hawthorne (winner of the 1990 Tony Award for his performance) and Jane Alexander. It had been expanded, or rather stuffed, by the author with more circular chitchat, faintly intellectualized examples of Oxfordian snobbery and manipulative tear-jerking.

Now we have a sincere enough revival Off Broadway produced by the Fellowship for Performing Arts and as the late-blooming lovers an excellent Daniel Gerroll and a fine Robin Abramson making her New York professional theater debut.

C.S. or "Jack" as he was known familiarly, famed not only as a Christian-intoxicated scholar but as the author of the revered fantasies about Narnia, was decidedly not a lady's man. Joy, an unhappily married, aggressive New York Christian-converted Jew and an ardent admirer of Lewis, was a woman who wasn't about to let the shy, confirmed bachelor get away.

The tragedy of this true story is that their slowly nurtured love affair was not destined for consummation. Resisting all attempts by Joy to activate passion in him and subtly undermined by his stuffy fellow academians, Jack, nevertheless, begins to face his true feelings when Joy is diagnosed as having bone cancer and is hospitalized. The prognosis is negative but their love becomes a positive force in slowing down the inevitable.

A quick divorce from her abusive, alcoholic husband and a quiet marriage ceremony in the hospital propels them into a short-lived romantic idyll.

Gerroll's performance is a persuasive amalgam of boyish insecurities and scholarly smarts. He presents "Jack" as the proverbial absent-minded but ardently Anglified professor, and his heart-breaking sobs have the desired effect.

Although I enjoyed seeing the contrast in personality that Abramson brings to Davidman's slightly abrasive facade, it is really hard to imagine what sparks could have been ignited between Jack and Joy. Certainly in real-life it must have. Long before her illness adds a touch of bitterness to her natural wit, Joy is seen as a revitalizing force sent, perhaps miraculously to drive the inertia out of a man so immersed in concept that actual living was out of the question.

Given more stage time than is often given to young performers, young Jack McCarthy was much better than good as Joy's too well-behaved eight-year-old son Douglas,. Most outstanding among the fine supporting cast is John C. Vennema as Major Warnie Lewis, Jack's stuffy but also protective brother.

Director Christa Scott-Reed does what can be done to keep the protracted predictabilities at bay. And the many frequently moving settings designed by Kelly James keep the drama from slipping off permanently to Narnia, a pretension that is periodically actualized.

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Shadowlands by William Nicholson
Directed by Christa Scott-Reed
Cast: Daniel Gerroll (C. S. Lewis), Sean Gorley (Christopher Riley), Dan Kremer (Rev. Harry Harrington), Daryll Heysham (Dr. Maurice Oakley/Waiter/Clerk/Priest) Jacob H. Knoll (Alan Gregg/Doctor), John C. Vennema (Major Warnie Lewis), Robin Abramson (Joy Davidman), Jack McCarthy, alternate with Jacob Morrell), Stephanie Cozart (Woman/Registrar/Nurse)
Scenic Design: Kelly James Tighe
Costume Design: Michael Bevins
Lighting Design: Aaron Spivey
Original Music & Sound Design: John Gromada
Production Manager: Lew Mead
Stage Manager: Kelly Burns
Running Time: 2 hour 20 minutes including intermission
Fellowship for Performing Arts (FTP) at The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row 410 W. 42nd Street
From 10/17/17; opening 11/01/17; closing 1/07/18.
Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman 11/03/17.

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