"Golly." This deeply, hilariously, human expression of terror and awe in the face of the divine/sublime captures the tone and power of
The Great Divorce
, Anthony Lawton's deeply human one-man show at the Lantern Theater Company.
Lawton has performed this show, which he adapted from C.S. Lewis' novel, three times before (2005, 2006, 2008), and it seems to get better with the years. This is passionate acting combined with riveting storytelling, and without any fancy costumes or sets (although Stephen Hungerford provides some nifty lighting effects). Lawton can skillfully transform himself into many creatures (men, women, a lizard, angels, ghosts) with a change of posture, an accent, a gesture.
The story begins with a man standing at a bus stop. He has, he tells us, wandered in the rain for hours through grim, deserted streets, and joins the people waiting for the bus just for the company. They are a quarrelsome, irritating bunch of strangers, and once they get on the bus, he discovers they are flying. They will arrive at some mysterious cosmic land, enormous, glittering, and inhospitable to life as humans live it. Through a combination of narration and conversation, our man will take us through his epiphanic adventure.
"Hell," as Sartre famously told us in No Exit, "is other people." (Other people can, God knows, annoy the hell out of us.) But Lewis and Anthony Lawton would add that hell is also ourselves. The Great Divorce is an unconventional holiday show, not because of its theological ideas (although that, too), but because we are inclined to make resolutions for the New Year, thinking about how life might be better lived, examining our values as we weigh temptations and joys in the balance.
Whether The Great Divorce is a religious parable about heaven and hell or a symbolic fairy tale about choosing the right path in life or a philosophic fantasy about the nature of time and space, good and evil, it invites interpretation. Lewis (best known for his Narnia books) was a convert to Christianity. He also was English and wrote The Great Divorce in 1944-45, so that grim town and those quarrelsome, dangerous people sound a lot like London during World War II.
The Great Divorce is the centerpiece of a Lawton festival, including two more one-man shows: The Devil and Billy Markham, by Shel Silverstein (Wednesday, Saturday, and Dec. 15) and Heresy, an original piece by Lawton (Dec. 14, 15, and 18).
Through Dec. 19, Lantern Theater Company, St. Stephen's Theater, 10th & Ludlow Sts. Tickets $25-35. Information: www.lanterntheatre.org, 215-829-0395.