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Actors' hard work can't save pointless Great Divorce
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Actors' hard work can't save pointless Great Divorce

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The Great Divorce
Taproot Theatre
Through February 27


C.S. Lewis was known for fantasy (the Narnia books) and embedding Christian theology in his work. In 2007, The Magis Theater Company adapted his book The Great Divorce into a stage play. Taproot Theatre is debuting this adaptation as their first production of their 2010 season, and as an inauguration back into their remodeled theater. Entering the theater, you would never know it had been a target of arson. Everything is fresh and bright.

The Great Divorce has nothing to do with marriage. It's about the great divorce we go through when we die. C.S. Lewis is presented as a narrator who tells of finding himself in a "grey city" and gets on a bus and goes on a strange journey to a land of great color, but the grass is so sharp and pointy that it hurts to walk on it. The colorful place is on the way to heaven and the grey city is hell, or as one person describes, those that leave the grey city call it purgatory and those that stay in it find out it's hell.

Lewis (David Dorrian) describes a series of encounters between the grey people on the bus and colorful people who come to greet them and take them to heaven. Many are dead relatives reuniting with the newly dead to explain how to follow them to heaven. Exasperatingly, most people choose to go back to hell rather than follow this colorful being to heaven, which promises to be everything they dreamed of. This seems to indicate that Lewis thought most people would choose the hell they know over the heaven that might be, since they are so afraid of what they do not know. That's a fairly pessimistic outlook.

The script is not as full of Christian references as you might expect. In fact, it's fairly broadly "spiritual" in its tone, but still is definitely postulating an Almighty, and heaven and hell. The ensemble of actors, most of who have to play at least one "grey" person and one "colorful" person, are all solid performers, many from the mainstay of working actors that Taproot casts in other plays. They include Candace Vance, Ryan Childers, Sam Vance, Nathan Jeffrey, Faith Russell, Jenny Cross, Pam Nolte, Nolan Palmer and Kim Morris.

The costumes, designed by Sarah Burch Gordon, are wonderful, and Mark Lund's set design allows for your imagination to alter it to many different locales. It's visually very appealing, especially in color. There is also a puppetry aspect which is less successful, but one way of conveying the fantastical characters that appear.

The script is not very engaging, as hard as the actors work to make the characters sing. The vignettes are very short and there are many of them, and they often end in the grey person rejecting the possibility of heaven: a woman who wants so badly to see her dead son that she rejects going to heaven if it means "letting go" of him; a cheated-on wife who wants to control her dead husband, and if she can't do so she'd rather go back to hell; an artist who wants everlasting fame on earth and rejects going to heaven if it means oblivion. It's not easy to see Lewis' point for all this.

For more information, go to www.taproottheatre.org or call 206-781-9707.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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