Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Great Divorce: A Thought Provoking Play

Michael Frederic, Christa Scott-Reed and Joel Rainwater
The Great Divorce played in Portland Friday and Saturday at the Newmark Theatre.

The play is based on the C. S. Lewis novel of the same name and is presented by the Fellowship for Performing Arts (FPA).

A three person cast (Michael Frederic, Joel Rainwater and Christa Scott-Reed) play 19 differenct characters as the scenes change. Their acting is first rate, and the actors' changes from one character to another flow smoothly and naturally as the scenes shift.

The sets are digitally produced and projected. The digital projection isn't overdone (in the sense of making the play more like a movie), and not only doesn't detract from the stage play atmosphere, but enhances the flow of the story by eliminating the usual need for end of scene delays while the set is being changed.

The storyline is of a man who dreams he is in a rainy, gray, dingy city and finds himself at a bus stop that is the beginning of a trip to the outskirts of Heaven.

The bus passengers have the opportunity to stay, but all except one find reasons to prefer their own pet vice to humbling themselves and enjoying the beauty and bounty of the grass, apples, river and hills they find around them. The passengers are enmeshed in self-righteousness, pride, possessiveness, inveterate grumbling and lust. They struggle with desiring some of the sweetness that Heaven offers (sometimes being reunited with a loved one) and the need to change into a being that really desires at least a little bit of good more than getting their own way.

Max McLean, founder and artistic director of FPA, led a 15 minute discussion after the play for any who wanted to stay. Most of the 800 in the audience stayed and were rewarded with interesting questions and illuminating answers by McLean. One he declined to answer about the meaning/impact of the play, but asked the questioner what she thought. Her answer was succinct and worth hearing. It made me wish for that kind of format after every good play or movie. (But, then I like to discuss movies and plays with whoever I go with and usually am still ready to keep going when their energy and/or interest flags.)

McLean talked about how dense the novel is and how important it is in the play to keep a line of interest that draws the audience through to the end.

Max McLean in after play discussion
The ideas in The Great Divorce are sometimes easy, but many are complex in the sense that just hearing them said once is not enough. You need to think about them. When you read a book, you can stop and think about what you just read. Or you can go back and reread a passage. Not in a play. You have one shot at the words, unless they are repeated through rephrasing.

Thus, difficult concepts, or substantial concepts strung together, can easily become a weight that stops the playgoer from being able to smoothly follow the story line. The humor Lewis wrote into the book is a big aid and gives relief from the denseness of the ideas. The play script makes good use of that humor. But this play has important ideas to think about. So, because the play was only here for two days and three performances and is not available for reviewing on dvd or video on demand, I recommend reading the book.

I also recommend seeing the play when it comes to Portland on its next tour.

Max McLean and FPA are enriching theater going life and thoughtful reflection on important human issues.

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