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"C.S.Lewis Onstage" Review- a most compelling play about "the most reluctant convert"

By Debra Davy

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Fellowship for The Performing Arts is currently presenting “C.S.Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert”, adapted by and starring Max McLean, through August 14th at The Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport. In this entrancing one-person performance, McLean “inhabits” Lewis- best known to most people as the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia”-from the time he lost his beloved mother and became estranged from his solicitor father through his dynamic personal conversion to Christianity. Clive Staples Lewis, a British writer, academic, lay theologian, broadcaster, literary critic and medieval scholar, went on to spend the whole of his adult life at Oxford and Cambridge, penning a range of particularly challenging books on the nature of Christian belief, among his novels, memoirs, poems, critiques and essays.

Max McLean as C.S. Lewis

Co-directed by Mclean and Ken Denison, the show is visually appealing as well as engaging and intellectually stimulating, thanks to scenic design by Kelly James Tighe, projections by Rocco DiSanti, lighting by Geoffrey D. Fishburn and original music and sound design by John Gromada. The production uses the cunning device of papering the back wall of Lewis’ chambers with photographs of his family, tutor, friends and colleagues. As they are discussed in context, their image is projected forward towards the audience, who can switch their attention off McLean and fasten it on the individual being introduced. In this manner, the details about each new character’s influence, spoken in a plummy upper-crust British accent, meld with the detailed photographic portrait in the audience mind.

Max Mclean in "The Most Reluctant Convert"

Lewis' life was filled with memorable characters and friends, including J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Hobbitt",and they had a profound influence on the development of his moral and devout life. Said Lewis, “Friendship…is born at the moment one man says to another “What! You too?”

Max McLean channels C.S. Lewis

The choice of textual material from Lewis’ writings is masterful: a surprisingly full portrait of this emotionally rich human being’s life is delivered in the 70-minute performance. Witty, warm, erudite, and very funny in a delightfully self-deprecatory way, the personality of this remarkable man comes forth as Mclean strides the stage, intoning like a true “toff”. One soon comes to understand the accent and absorb its nuances. There is no question whatsoever that McLean has studied and loved Lewis’ work, or that he has striven mightily to faithfully portray him.

C.S. Lewis Onstage

But make no mistake about it- this is not just snippets from a life. Pay attention to the words- you will be taken on a thorough journey of conversion in a compellingly honest way. Lewis wanted to remain free of the commitments of belief, and he could not. The development of his conversion is lovingly and rigorously portrayed here- and it is NOT itself an exercise in proselytization-the play is intellectually rigorous and the theme here is drawn carefully from Lewis’ own famous words. As McLean discussed with the audience afterwards, the most difficult part to craft AND to act was the scene where Lewis goes from atheism to theism- the crux of the conversion, if you will. It could not have been so convincingly achieved without all that went before it, both in the great man’s life and in that life’s adaptation to the stage.

C.S.Lewis played by Max McLean

This performance is entertaining, stimulating, and mentally enriching-highly recommended.


For tickets to “C.S. Lewis Onstage” and information about this and other great shows, go to the mercurytheatrechicago website 

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Daniel 





Published on Jul 30, 2016

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