Personal life of C.S. Lewis portrayed by theater group

Katie Stroh

For three weekends this November, Austin-based theater group the Trinity Street Players present “Shadowlands,” a play based on the life of famed British author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.

Most people are familiar with Lewis’ works, most notably his beloved “Chronicles of Narnia” children’s series among others. However, few know very much about Lewis’ personal life. “Shadowlands,” adapted by William Nicholson from his own film of the same name, reveals the secret passion of the man behind the enchanted world of Narnia.

The Trinity Street players are a faith-based theater group grown out of the First Baptist Church of Austin. “Shadowlands” deals with, among other themes, Lewis’ struggle with his own faith after the loss of his wife Joy Davidman Gresham. Whether or not viewers are Christian, they can appreciate the play’s exploration of the purpose of emotional suffering — what Lewis called God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Director David McCullars did extensive research on both Lewis and Gresham to better understand their motivations and personal convictions.

“Because he was previously an atheist, [Lewis] comes at Christianity from a very practical point of view,” McCullars said. “He was a logical person. He really wanted to create Christianity for the layperson. But at the same time he was all about fairy tales and magic. The marriage of those together is really what makes his writings special.”

“Shadowlands” centers around Lewis’ later life, after he had converted from atheism to Christianity and had already become a successful and well-known author and orator. Lewis meets and befriends Joy Gresham, a brash American writer and poet. The two develop a strong, intellectual and emotional friendship, much to the chagrin of Lewis’ disapproving brother and friends.

When Gresham leaves her abusive, alcoholic husband for a new life in England, she calls upon her friend Lewis for help. Lewis secretly marries Gresham so that she may go on living in England, all the while insisting that their relationship is completely platonic. When Gresham contracts a deadly form of bone cancer, only then does Lewis discover his true feelings for his legal wife.

Linda Miller Raff, who plays Gresham, is glad that “Shadowlands” has brought attention to Gresham’s legacy.
“She’s kind of gotten subsumed under [Lewis’s] legend,” Raff said. “I’m really pleased that people are getting to know her, because she’s kind of been forgotten in American literature.”

WHAT: “Shadowlands”
WHERE: First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity St., Austin
WHEN: Nov. 11-13, 18-20 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 14, 21 at 2:30 p.m.
TICKETS: Performances are free, but please reserve seats at (512) 476-2625.