Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Of Wardrobes and Rings: A Review

There was a full house for the performance   Of Wardrobes and Rings at Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto on February 28, 12016.  Perhaps it was general knowledge but it was a complete surprise to me that this was the premier of the show!

In a pub setting JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis meet over beer and tea (tea for Lewis because his recent heart attack has him under doctor's orders to cut out alcohol) which gave the audience a glimpse of the highlights of their famed lifelong friendship. Hattie the barmaid provided a light and youthful backdrop to showcase the somewhat stodgy academic figures of Lewis and Tolkien, or Jack and Tollers as they referred to each other.

At times they reminded one of a catty, gossipy David Niven and Bob Newhart if I must be honest. In other words, while brilliant, successful, and creative, they were so very human. There is an invisible 'fourth wall' we readers often construct that keeps us from understanding such literary icons. It is easy to forget they were people, people that nursed grudges, that wore catheters, that were turned down for promotions, and often misunderstood even by their dearest friends. Despite this laundry list of terribly human realities, the end result for me personally was that I came to respect and admire Lewis and Tolkien in a greater way, and their friendship even more.

Having seen and thoroughly been inspired by Max Maclean's stage production of CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce, I was poised for something similar.  Instead, Phil Crowley and David Payne's thoughtful dialogue had a very comfy and almost 'homey' feel, unlike Maclean's clipped stage treatment of Lewis' books. I had attempted a very heroic last minute read of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which I didn't quite complete, and was rewarded several times with connections to the story that I would otherwise have been oblivious to. In case you were there, I was the gaping fool who laughed a lot, and cried at the end.