Photo by Ken Jacques
Robert Smyth and Deborah Gilmour Smyth in Shadowlands
The shadowlands of William Nicholson’s 1989 play—based on his own script for a 1985 TV movie—is the temporal realm in which all of us reside: the living world. How we occupy and navigate life and what awaits us afterward is one of Nicholson’s central questions. The other is equally unanswerable: Why does a benevolent Creator allow almost-unbearable human suffering? These are inquiries ponderous enough for 10 plays, let alone one. Nicholson’s Shadowlands, now onstage at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado and directed by Kerry Meads, tries just the same. Even at an overlong two hours-plus, it only approaches the scope of such substantive existential issues.
What the production has going for it are elegant performances by husband-and-wife Robert Smyth and Deborah Gilmour Smyth as the prolific British writer and so-called “Christian apologist” C.S. Lewis and Helen Joy Davidman, an academic- and activist-minded American. In this real-life story, the relationship between Jack and Joy, as they called each other, evolves from epistolary to friendship to marriage of convenience to a love that endured even after Joy’s death from cancer. Smyth, Lamb’s producing artistic director, is nearly unrecognizable made up as Lewis, but it’s the interiority of his performance—brave, dignified and restrained—that command the stage. Gilmour Smyth embodies Joy’s headstrong nature and fortitude in the face of eternity, and as always when this pair performs together (as in last year’s piercing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for Intrepid Theatre Company), the chemistry is instantaneous.
It’s rare that a play is based on a movie rather than the other way around. (Shadowlands was also a 1989 feature film starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.) On the stage, C.S. Lewis’ contemplations, as dramatized by Nicholson, hover longer in the air than they do on the screen, though the jerking of tears in either idiom is conspicuous. As with many a theatrical work centered on ideas, the strength of the actors determines its accessibility. In that respect, Lamb’s Shadowlands is in good hands.
Shadowlands runs through April 9 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. $24-$68; lambplayers.org
Anansi, the Story King: The mythological tale of a spider and a sky god that attempts to draw parallels between the story and the African diaspora. Adapted and directed by Nadine George-Graves, it opens for five performances at the Arthur Wagner Theatre at UCSD in La Jolla. theatre.ucsd.edu
A Piece of My Heart: Shirley Lauro’s prize-winning play tells the true story of six women who served in the Vietnam War. Directed by Jeannette Thomas, it opens March 16 at the Grossmont College Theatre in El Cajon. grossmont.edu
The Dresser: A WWII-era theatre dresser attempts to prepare a veteran stage actor for a King Lear performance. Written by Ronald Harwood and based on his own experiences, the play opens March 17 at the Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
Awake & Sing!: Clifford Odets’ Tony Award-winning drama about a third-generation Jewish family who all share an apartment in the Bronx during the Great Depression. Directed by Kristianne Kurner, it opens in previews March 17 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
My Brooklyn Hamlet: Brenda Adelman’s one-woman show about how she leanrned to forgive a father who killed her mother and married her aunt. It opens for three performances on March 19 at the Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
Waiting for Godot: Samuel Beckett’s classic play about two buddies waiting for a mysterious man that they hope will help them change their life for the better. Directed by Gabor Tompa, it runs through March 18 at the Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre at UCSD in La Jolla. theatre.ucsd.edu
2.5 Minute Ride: Lisa Kron dramatic solo show about her relationship with her father, a Holocaust survivor. It runs through March 19 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org
The Illusion: Tony Kushner’s fantastical play about a 17th Century father seeking news of his son, who is studying under a famous sorcerer. Directed by David Ellenstein, it runs through March 19 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Sex With Strangers: Two very different writers are unexpectedly trapped in a cabin and end up having a one-night stand only to find their literary careers intertwining later. Written by Laura Eason and presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through March 19 at the Lyceum Space in Downtown. sdrep.org
Well: The pioneering Broadway comedy about a terminally ill mom who attempt to heal a racially divided community. Directed by Kym Pappas, it runs through March 19 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org
Next Fall: After a terrible traffic accident, a gay man begins to question his atheism when he has to turn to his partner’s Christian family. Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, it runs through March 25 at the OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.info
The Blameless: Nick Gandiello’s drama was developed during the 2016 New Voices Festival and tells the story of the Garcia family, who are struggling to recover from a traumatizing event. It runs through March 26 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Honky Tonk Laundry: The premiere musical centers on two female laundromat employees who still manage to get their hands dirty. Featuring the music of the Dixie Chicks, Martina McBride, Pasty Cline and other country music notables, it runs through March 26 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.biz
Shadowlands: William Nicholson’s drama tells the true story of a late-in-life romance between C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman. Directed by Kerry Meads, it runs through April 9 at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
On the 20th Century: A comedic musical about a down-on-his-luck theatre producer who is trying to convince his actress ex to play the main part is a nonexistent drama. Directed by Sean Murray, it runs through April 30 at the Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. cygnettheatre.com